Post Pandemic Stress Disorder - Noticing the Breath.
A while ago I wrote a blog on the importance of breath work and I feel that it is time to follow on from this. The pandemic of the past 2 years appears to have had more of a psychological and physiological effect on society than anticipated. PPSD (Post Pandemic Stress Disorder) is now being recognised as a mental health condition. From my observations and client feedback, it seems that the underlying level of fear (injected into us by various media outlets and government campaigns) has escalated throughout society; causing our basal level of stress indicators to rise very slowly and unobtrusively, until they reach a point where it manifests as physical symptoms and/or anxiety - not dissimilar to the boiling of the frog metaphor.
Furthermore, I have noticed that more and more clients are expressing that these elevated levels of anxiety have had an effect on their respiratory system; relaying symptoms such as restriction in the ribcage, an inability to breathe deeply, hiccups or excessive yawning, tightness or pain across the back of the ribs and intercostal muscle pain. The constraints on our movements, working from home, the closure of sports facilities, health clubs and gyms, the transition from in person yoga/pilates/dance classes to online classes have resulted in deprivation of exercise and a sharp decline in cardiovascular and physical health for many people. This, coupled with the prolonged wearing of face-masks, has adjusted our breath from nasal to mouth; from slow and regulated to shallow and stifled, from the bottom of the lungs to higher within the chest area, all exacerbating the issue.
Our respiratory system is part of our autonomic nervous system; when we belly breathe, slow and rhythmically, we activate our parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system and feel calm and relaxed; when our breath moves higher up in our lungs (sternum area), we send signals to the brain that we feel in danger and our stress response (fight/flight/freeze/fawn) is activated. We are essentially breathing additional stress into our body and the cycle continues.
How can we break the cycle ?
We can begin to break this cycle by understanding what happens when we breathe:
When we breathe through our mouth we restrict the amount of oxygen that our lungs intake; we are inclined to breathe at a faster rate which is more likely to activate our stress response; we inhale unfiltered air which increases the risk of dental problems and throat and ear infections and, we lose moisture from our mouth and tongue, cultivating a great environment for bacteria to thrive. Breathing isn't the intended usage of the mouth. Our mouth is primarily designed for eating, drinking and speaking, only being used in breathing if our nasal cavity is blocked for any reason.
Whereas, when we breathe through our nostrils (nasal breathing) the air is filtered, retaining small particles and preventing these from entering the deeper respiratory system; the air is warmed and moisture is added which prevents the drying out of the bronchial tubes and creates a soothing breath; nitric oxide (a vasodilator) is released to enable the lungs to take in more oxygen and most importantly we slow our breath down, allowing the diaphragm to work as it should and lowering our heart rate to keep us in a state of calm.
Noticing how and where you are breathing is the first step towards changing your physiological, emotional. mental and physical self. A reset for your nervous system. This can sometimes feel overwhelming so I thought I would share a simple exercise to help:
Stop whatever you are doing.
Take a breath in and notice if you are breathing through the mouth or the nose.
Notice where you are taking your breath to; your belly, the bottom of your ribcage or the top of your ribcage.
Now relax your jaw.
Relax your tongue away from the roof of your mouth and place the very tip of your tongue on the back of your top front teeth.
Gently rest your lips together.
Breathe in through your nostrils and imagine this breath as a warm and glowing orange light.
Visualise this breath flowing down the back of your throat, through your heart centre, through the solar plexus and into your belly; filling your abdomen and gently pushing your belly button outwards.
On your exhalation (using your core muscles) gently pull your belly button in towards the spine. Feel the breath flowing back through the solar plexus, through the heart centre, back up through the throat and out through the nostrils.
Repeat until you feel calm and relaxed.
Repeat as and when you need to. 💜🙏🏻