Mindful breathing is one of THE most effective methods there is for reducing stress and activating the vagus nerve
Its fast, simple, free, and can be done anywhere at any time!!
When you take slow deep controlled breaths, it switches off the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system and switches on the parasympathetic (rest and digest) system via the vagus nerve
This acts directly to reduce stress hormones as well as the effects of stress on the body
Focusing on the breath also creates a meditative state to calm the mind via reducing the 'alarm' signals in the brain (amygdala) and improving frontal cortex function (concentration, decision making, creativity etc)
Controlled deep breathing has been shown to:
-improve anxiety, panic attacks, ptsd and depression
-reduce muscle tension /headaches
-reduce blood pressure and heart rate (it can even help some arrhythmias ie irregular heart rhythms)
-improve lung function and respiratory conditions ie asthma and COPD
- improve blood sugar levels in diabetics -improve gut issues such as reflux, ibs, & bloating
- it has even been used to help cancer treatment, and may lengthen telomeres (ends of DNA responsible for ageing and disease)!
Breathing in for 4 seconds and out for 6 seconds seems to have the most evidence, with the longer exhale being crucial - I like the 4/5/6 pattern ie breathe in for 4s, hold the breath for 5s, breathe out for 6s
Breathing through your nose, and into your abdomen (belly breathing) helps to make this controlled and deep
The concept of 'mindful moments' throughout the day is an incredible tool for stress - it refers to taking brief pauses when you notice yourself becoming anxious or tense, to take a few seconds to focus on the breath, with this controlled pattern. Try repeat for 5-10 cycles and notice how you feel before and after
I practice this on a daily basis (often multiple times!) especially at work under time pressure, or if my children are testing my patience