Just breathe. Remember to breathe. Take deep breaths. We’re given this advice when we’re nervous, stressed, or freaking out. Most of us are aware that changing our breathing can be a form of stress reduction. And we’ve all heard that deep breathing exercises are good for us and that they have numerous health benefits, such as:
- Regulating the heart rate
- Lowering blood pressure
- Improving mental health
- Reducing the risk of heart disease
But what you may not have heard is that if done wrong, deep breathing can be dangerous.
The Dangers of Taking Big Breaths
Big breaths and deep breathing are not the same. Let’s get that out of the way. When you take a big breath, you are taking a bigger than needed volume breath. This causes over-breathing, which can seriously mess with the delicate oxygen-carbon dioxide balance in your cells.
Also called hyperventilation, over-breathing can lead to you expelling too much carbon dioxide and impair blood flow to the brain. This causes the lightheaded or tingling sensations you’ve probably felt before. It can lead to hypoxia, which is a fancy way of saying not enough oxygen in the body’s cells and tissues. Hypoxia can also lead to us feeling tired and lethargic and affect concentration and memory.
How Do You Know If You Are Over-Breathing?
Of course, we’d want to know if we are over-breathing or hyperventilating before we see any of the alarming symptoms above. You’re over-breathing if you:
- Breathe through your mouth sometimes during the day.
- Breathe through your mouth when you are sleeping.
- Visibly notice your breathing when resting or relaxing.
- Hear your breath while resting.
- Breathe more from the chest rather than the abdomen.
- Sigh regularly during the day.
- Often experience fatigue, nasal congestion, dizziness, or tightening of the airways.
Benefits of Nose Breathing Compared to Mouth Breathing
Some might think that controlled breathing exercises, including deep breathing, offer similar benefits whether they are done through the nose or the mouth. Not exactly. Here’s a look at the benefits of breathing through the nose versus the drawbacks of breathing through the mouth.
Benefits of Nostril Breathing
- Filters out harmful particles such as dust, microbes, and bacteria.
- Helps optimize oxygen intake by slowing down exhalation.
- Helps us use our diaphragm more efficiently.
- Increases intake of nitric oxide for smooth transportation of oxygen throughout the body.
Drawbacks of Chronic Mouth Breathing
- Leads to too much over-breathing.
- Causes the body to produce more mucus.
- May lead to snoring and sleep apnea.
- Offers no protection from pathogens.
- May enlarge the tonsils and adenoids.
Because breathing is an essential function, our bodies have a built-in system to ensure we always get enough oxygen to survive. When we say chronic mouth breathing, we mean mouth breathing most of the time, not when you have a cold and temporarily can’t breathe through your nose.
If you catch yourself taking short and shallow breaths or overly big breaths, there’s something you can do. Slow down and extend your exhalations while concentrating on breathing from your lower belly. These long exhalations, combined with a slow breathing cycle, create a calming and regenerating response in your body.
Your breath is your body’s ultimate chill pill and stress management tool. Take control of your breathing the right way when you are stressed as a way to hit the rest button. Your mind and emotions will thank you.