How to Remember to Breath when You're Feeling Fear

By Anna Kuyumcuoglu | mental health
Posted: April 15, 2024

The Power of the Breath to Overcome Fear and Stress

A simple biological function we usually take for granted may hold the key to responding better to fear and anxiety, according to new research. A study at Northwestern University found that breathing through the nose, rather than the mouth, allows people to perceive and process fearful stimuli more quickly. See LINK here for the study.

“We can potentially use this fact to our advantage,” said researcher Christina Zelano. “If you’re in a dangerous environment with fearful stimuli, our data indicates you can respond more quickly if inhaling through your nose.”

However, merely nasal breathing may not be enough to fully counter fear’s effects. The real power lies in deep, diaphragmatic breathing. Our instinctive response to fear is to freeze and hold the breath – the “deer in the headlights” syndrome as we size up the perceived threat. Consciously taking slow, belly-filling breaths is one of the fastest ways to discharge that fear response and calm the mind.

The benefits of focused deep breathing extend far beyond fear and anxiety. From my experience working alongside opera singers, I witnessed firsthand how the focused, deep breathing vital for singing also served as a powerful tool to process and alleviate difficult emotions like depression and fatigue.Singers breathe approximately four times as deeply as people at rest, delivering a flood of oxygen to the brain. Any aerobic activity that promotes deep breathing can elevate mood, energy levels and mental clarity.

Proper posture is essential for optimal breathing capacity. An erect, upright posture allows the rib cage to expand fully with each breath. Keeping the chest relatively still while the belly rises and falls engages the diaphragm for deeper respiration. Good posture alone has been shown in studies to improve mood, vitality and reduce depression when the head is held high and eyes forward rather than looking down.

In life’s stressful moments, remembering to breathe deeply through the nose can provide an emotional reset. Combining conscious deep breathing with good posture engages the mind-body connection to ease fear, rebalance the psyche and promote a state of calm awareness. The remedy we need may be as basic as the next breath we take – but taken with powerful intention.

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