Why deep breaths are not always helpful.

  Posted On:  September 22, 2022

Have you ever had someone tell you to ‘take a deep breath‘ and it didn’t help?  There is a fundamental reason why.

When you experience acute stress your body releases cortisol, norepinephrine, and increases your oxygen intake. This creates an imbalance of oxygen and carbon dioxide which contributes to feeling shaky, dizzy, light headed, and possibly hyperventilate.

If someone is in a full blown panic attack or escalating fast, taking a deep breath means taking in even more oxygen which may actually amplify distress the body is experiencing.

Here are a few of ideas to consider instead of taking a deep breath:

  • Breathe through your nose which naturally helps slow and even out the pace
  • Interrupt the stress response by placing something very cold (even an ice pack) in your hands for a couple of minutes or splashing cold water on your face. The sensory experience of the cold causes your brain to adjust focus, even for a few seconds, and provide possible relief to the overstimulation of your nervous system.
  • Widen your eyes to take in as much of your surroundings as possible. Vision has a direct impact on our nervous system and during stress, we tend to focus intensely on a small area. When we widen our gaze it signals our brain to assess more information which helps provide a calming signal that we are in fact safe in the space. This article goes in more detail about how this works and this one takes you a little deeper with the connection between vision and breathing.
  • And my personal favorite: shake it off! Also known as neurogenic tremoring. You can read more here but the idea is that shaking helps to release tension, utilize the excess adrenaline, and calm the nervous system.

Wishing you an emotionally regulated kind of day!