Effect of Breathwork on Stress & Mental Health

Breathwork is the practice of controlling ones’ breath. It is becoming a well-researched and practised modality that has been found to be very beneficial for improving our mental health, improving physical performance and controlling our stress response.

The researchers Fincham et al. (2023) summarised a range of studies (called a meta-analysis) on the effects of breathwork on mental health and stress markers.

This meta-analysis of data aimed to find if breathwork interventions lead to lower stress, anxiety, and depression in comparison to non-breathwork controls.

The study analysed different forms of breathwork, including fast and slow breathing techniques. Therefore, the efficacy of one specific type of breathwork was not analysed. However, with any breathwork practice, the idea that sole focus and attention is placed on your breath, is expected. This singular attention practice can be seen as a mindfulness meditation.

In several studies, lowering the respiratory rate (rate of breathing) to five to six breaths per minute was shown to significantly lower levels of perceived stress, compared to control groups who did not receive breathwork interventions. Additionally, breathwork was found to have positive effects on anxiety and depressive symptoms, indicating potential benefits for mental health conditions.

The meta-analysis also explored the potential mechanisms through which breathwork exerts its effects. It suggested that breathwork may promote relaxation, enhance self-regulation skills, and improve emotional well-being, all of which contribute to stress reduction and improved mental health.

To practise breathwork yourself, inhale for a count of five to six seconds and exhale for the same amount of time.

You should only use your nose for breathing (if possible), with your tongue resting on the roof of your mouth, and your shoulders relaxed. Place a hand on your belly, feel your belly come into your hand on the inhale, and go towards your spine on the exhale.

This mindfulness technique may help to calm your mind and body. Remember, psychological stress is something that is perceived by the mind. At a psychological level, it’s not so much our environment that dictates the body’s stress response, but rather our mind’s perception of that environment.

The way our mind interprets stress is based on memory from past experiences, or the perceived meaning of the stimulus. Our thoughts are generated in response to a stimulus, which cause our heart rate to change, hormones to be pumped though our bodies, our blood flow and digestion system to change, plus a myriad of other functions.

Therefore, having control of our thought process is paramount in controlling our stress response. Breathwork can be seen as one such mindfulness tool to help with this.

At Destiny Health, we’re committed to helping you take your health and fitness to the next level. If you’re a busy professional and stress is affecting your health and wellbeing, if you’d like to hear about more tailor made strategies and programs, simply book your Free Assessment online. You only pay if you choose a service at the end of the discussion.

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