How Does Breathwork Improve Mental Health?

Dr. Joseph McCloud
March 22, 2024
9 minutes

The concept of deep breathing when you’re stressed is nothing new. If we travel back in time, there have been various instances where we have heard someone tell us to stop and take a deep breath during stressful times. However, the connection between breathwork and stress reduction runs deeper than we may have initially thought.

This article will look at how breathwork improves mental health and give you a sneak peak into the science behind it.

The Breathwork and Mental Health Connection

Our brain associates different emotions with different breathing patterns. When a person is happy, their breathing will be steady and regular. When they are anxious, their breathing will become irregular, shallow, and quicker.

When you slow your breath in times of stress, you can trick your brain into thinking there is no threat or challenge at hand. This allows you to achieve a higher state of well-being. Breathing exercises have also been shown to help you think more clearly.

Mental Health and Breathwork Studies

Several studies have shown breathwork’s benefits in improving mental health. Here are some to consider.

  • One 2023 review of 12 studies and a total of 785 participants showed breathwork to yield a significant reduction of stress as compared to non-breathwork techniques such as mindfulness and emotional intelligence.
  • A 2017 study showed diaphragmatic breathing can improve attention and lower cortisol levels making it an effective technique for boosting cognitive function and reducing the negative effects of stress.
  • A 2018 study revealed that slow breathing techniques promote autonomic, cerebral, and psychological flexibility related to emotional control and psychological well-being. This makes humans more adaptable in terms of how they handle stress.
  • Researchers at the Yale Child Study Center and Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence used a training program on students that relies on a breathing technique as well as other wellness activities. The program was found to be effective in reducing stress and depression and promoting mindfulness, connectedness, and overall positivity.

How to Use Breathing to Reduce Stress

There are various exercises that can be used to reduce stress. Studies reveal that they can all be beneficial in improving mental health. The easiest way to calm down is by simply changing your inhale-to-exhale ratio.

For example, you can try inhaling for four counts and exhaling for eight counts. Inhaling causes your heart rate to speed up, but exhaling causes it to slow down. So increasing your exhales will make for a slow down overall.

Once your heart rate is slowed, you will feel calmer. If you do breathing exercises on a regular basis, you will train your nervous system to reduce its reactions to stressful situations. This will reduce stress levels on an ongoing basis.

Why Breathwork is Ideal for Improving Mental Health

There are several reasons why breathwork is ideal for stress reduction. Here are a few to consider.

  • It Can Be Done Anywhere: Unlike meditation which requires you to be in a quiet setting, and other types of stress-relieving techniques that call for specific circumstances, breathwork can be done anywhere at any time. You can do it at your desk at work, in the middle of the day, or even at meetings.
  • No Side Effects: Medications are often prescribed to improve mental health, but they come with their share of side effects. Breathwork does not produce any side effects and it can even reduce or eliminate the need for medications.
  • It’s Effective: There are many studies backing breathwork’s efficacy. It is a proven method of stress relief and mental health improvement.
  • Additional Benefits: In addition to improving mental health, breathwork can also boost immunity and promote stronger respiratory function.

Other Methods for Improving Mental Health

Breathwork is an effective way to improve mental health, but it’s not the only option available. There are plenty of other stress-relieving methods including:

  • Meditation
  • Exercising
  • Aromatherapy
  • Professional therapy
  • Art therapy
  • Massage
  • … and the list goes on.

One thing you may consider is investing in the Hanu HRV app. It suggests personalized approaches for improving your stress reaction including breathwork, meditation, and more.

Stress is extremely detrimental to health. Don’t let it take over your life. Hanu Health can help you find the techniques that will help you improve your well-being.