Breathing Exercise for Anxiety | PARR PT and Vital-Side Mind-Body Series

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We want to share with you a simple breathing exercise for anxiety that can help activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System. In this video, our friend Lindsay Mitchell PA-C of Vital-Side joins Jonathan to discuss the effects of chronic stress on the body’s many systems. Thank you for sharing your time and expertise, Lindsay!

What are the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems? 

Both are parts of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). The ANS regulates unconscious bodily functions such as heart rate and respiratory rate. You may have heard of the “fight or flight” response and the Autonomic Nervous System is what controls that. Specifically, the Sympathetic side of the ANS.

“Fight or Flight” aka the Sympathetic Nervous System Response

The Sympathetic Nervous System is the part of the ANS that activates “fight or flight”. It is innately a good thing even if it doesn’t feel like it when you’re stressed and exhausted. It is what activates the body to act quickly in times of danger. If you have to outrun a tiger, for example, your Sympathetic Nervous System will be your best friend! When the Sympathetic side is activated in a time of perceived danger, stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are released. These prepare our body physiologically to quite literally fight or flee from danger.

Chronic Stress and its Effects on the Body

The issue, however, is when acute stress becomes chronic stress and these hormones get released over and over for a long period of time. The body was not meant to function in this state perpetually. As a result, bodily functions like rest, repair, and digestion can become inhibited. Therefore, symptoms of chronic pain, fatigue and illness can worsen during these times. Digestive or bowel issues can worsen or come out of nowhere. After enduring “fight or flight” for a long period of time, the body eventually crashes. This is one reason why disorders that cause an organic dysregulation of the Autonomic Nervous System (POTS, Dysautonomia, etc) are so exhausting.

The Parasympathetic Nervous System

Thankfully there is another side of the ANS, the Parasympathetic Nervous System, that can step in and activate “rest and digest”. Even better, you can actually help get your body to activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System. Breathing is one of the most powerful tools for this.

Next, Lindsay demonstrated a tool she uses in Vital-Side called left nostril breathing. With this simple breathing exercise for anxiety, you can bring oxygen to the right side of the brain and activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System.

Left Nostril Breathing for Parasympathetic Nervous System Activation

  1. Place forefinger over right nostril
  2. Breathe in and out through left nostril
  3. Repeat for one minute

(courtesy of Lindsay Mitchell at Vital-Side)

Most of our custom programs at PARR PT include a heavy focus on breathing, both for chronic illness patients and elite athletes. Taking control of your body’s Autonomic Nervous System is a powerful tool for health and wellness.

For more information on the mind-body connection of stress and chronic symptoms and even more breathing exercises for anxiety check out @parrptaustin and @myvitalside on Instagram.

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