We’ve all heard that little piece of wisdom from childhood temper tantrums to adult aggravations. What I notice is, as we get older, we start to scoff at the phrase, forgetting the truth and wisdom within it.
So what happens when we take a deep breath? There are two sections of the nervous system called the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The sympathetic is our primal, fight or flight response system. When we get stressed, angered, reactive, etc, we are in our sympathetic system…our heart races, our breath quickens. The parasympathetic is our “rest and digest”. It connects directly with organs to help them function and also helps us to calm and rationalize.
When we take a deep breath we switch gears, so to speak, from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic. This allows our heart rate to slow and our ability to reason to come back. So, from a very scientific and anatomical standpoint, taking a deep breath really does work! (Even if, in the heat of the moment, we get irritated when someone says it.)
So here we are, in the holiday season, one of the most stressful times of year in our American culture. But we have this amazing tool that is the breath that we can always use to help calm us down. So next time you find yourself stressing over cooking, presents, family, or any number of other things, take just a few seconds to take a full breath. Engage that parasympathetic nervous system!
I would like to note that this is simply my understanding of things I have been taught. Anatomy is not my area of expertise so if I messed up please let me know so I can correct it!