There are many of us who have been there. When someone or something causes an excessive sense of worry within you. It might be tough to breathe when emotion takes control and our chests appear to shut up.
Panic and stress can lead to pessimism and surrender. However, diaphragmatic breathing, according to Megan Riehl, Psy.D., a clinical health psychologist who specializes in treating patients with gastrointestinal issues, can help people restore control when faced with life’s unavoidable challenges.
“Feelings of stress and/or anxiety are natural and oftentimes, a part of our everyday lives,” says Riehl.
“However, instead of allowing them to be all-consuming, effective tools like diaphragmatic breathing can actively help individuals cope with many aspects of life.”
Riehl deals with people who have illnesses that might cause substantial physiological and psychological discomfort on a regular basis.
While speaking to Michigan Health, the specialist shared about the benefits associated with diaphragmatic breathing, an often-misunderstood technique.
How to describe diaphragmatic breathing?
Riehl: Diaphragmatic breathing is defined as deep breathing used to relieve both physical and emotional symptoms.
When someone engages in this sort of breathing, they contract their diaphragm by inhaling (and eventually exhaling) more deeply into their abdomen. Individuals typically breathe in their chests, which many refer to as “shallow breathing,” which can heighten emotions of anxiety and worry.
One’s body and nerves are calmed down by this deeper interchange of entering oxygen and departing carbon dioxide.
What medical issues is diaphragmatic breathing used to treat?
Riehl: “I think a lot of people have a loose familiarity with diaphragmatic breathing as a treatment used for mental health conditions. But as a GI psychologist, I’ve recommended – and taught – the technique to patients experiencing gastro-related conditions like diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. I’ve also seen great success from using this mechanism for patients with acid reflux, or GERD.”
It’s important to note that diaphragmatic breathing activates the movement of the diaphragm. By breathing deeply, one is moving the diaphragm up and down in the process, which allows for a gentle massaging of the digestive organs. In turn, this calms spasms, cramping or other issues that can lead to things like urgency (with diarrhea) or constipation.
Essentially, diaphragmatic breathing can reduce strain and cramping during bowel movements and therefore significantly lessen discomfort.
What are some of the myths surrounding this sort of breathing?
Riehl: A lot of people are surprised that a breathing technique can render such dramatic results. But the thing about diaphragmatic breathing is that it activates our body’s relaxation response and for a lot of my patients, this is hugely important.
The urge to use the bathroom, for example, when accessing one might not be very easy, might stir up feelings of anxiety and panic. By remembering this technique and consciously using it, however, that urgency can be better managed.
There absolutely is a brain-gut connection at play when it comes to GI conditions. And a lot of the strategies I work on with my patients tap into this relationship. Brain-gut therapies aid in regulating the disconnections that can happen between the brain and gut. Diaphragmatic breathing paired with other relaxation interventions have physiological and psychological benefits.
The unique aspect of diaphragmatic breathing is that it’s a fairly simple intervention that patients, who have sometimes dealt with conditions without viable solutions, can use for years to come. I teach it to nearly everyone I work with, including patients with chronic pancreatitis. When someone is in the midst of a severely painful episode, diaphragmatic breathing can help them calm their nerves and serve as a coping mechanism shortly after the episode subsides.
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