October 10th is celebrated as World Mental Health Day to advocate, educate, and spread awareness about mental health and well-being. The 2022 theme for this year’s world mental health day is “Make mental health & well-being for all a global priority”. And let’s begin by making it a priority for ourselves first.
One analogy some of us would have heard before is the use of oxygen masks on airplanes. While traveling in an airplane we are asked to put on our oxygen masks first before helping those next to us. If we try to help someone else before putting on a mask ourselves, we could both pass out due to lack of oxygen. The same holds true for mental health. We need to prioritize our mental well-being to support those around us. Therefore, on this world mental health day, take time to understand and prioritize your mental health!
Starting with something simpler is easier and so we should focus on how breathwork can help us. Practices like breathwork use simple controlled breathing patterns that involve slowing down the breathing and then exhaling for a longer duration than the inhalation. Regulating the breathing pattern can help slow the mind and focus on ourselves. Breathwork has been practiced with various names and techniques globally for thousands of years with its roots in yoga. Research shows that breathwork has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body and elevates mood. It also reduces blood pressure, strengthens respiratory function, improves the immune system, and reduces stress, anxiety, depression, and PTSD symptoms. Therefore, it positively impacts the physical and mental well-being of a person.
Vagus Nerve Stimulation
Research shows that breathing exercises can improve vagus nerve function. The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in our body responsible for various internal organs functioning and plays a role in the autonomic nervous system, which controls actions people do unconsciously, such as breathing and digestion. The sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system are part of the autonomic nervous system. This practice activates our vagus nerve and shifts our nervous system from the sympathetic system (fight/flight/freeze) to the parasympathetic system (calm/social/connected). When we take a deep breath, we stretch the fibers around the lungs. That sensory input travels up the vagus to our brain, and triggers a deep exhalation out, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system and calms us down. With regular vagal breathing practice, people report being calmer, more focused, healthier, happier, lighter, and pain-free. This technique can also be done reclining or propped up on pillows. The reclining version will help people to fall asleep and is particularly effective to fall back asleep after waking during the night.
Here’s how to do it:
1. First, let your lips part and exhale completely through your mouth.
2. Next, close your lips, inhaling silently through your nose as you count to four in your head.
3. Then, for seven seconds, hold your breath.
4. Then exhale from your mouth for eight seconds and repeat this.
Breathwork requires focus, so it can take time to develop your ability to concentrate on the
techniques. So, this World Mental Health Day, make self-care a priority and use this day to take a breather!
*Please always use your own discretion when engaging with breath practice. You know your body best and if you are feeling lightheaded or dizzy, that is an indication from your body that the breath work is too vigorous and it is important to make adjustments accordingly.
By: Dhihum Kour
Mental Health Counseling Intern