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 The benefits of deep breathing

image of a blue sky
10-minute time clockIf you’re feeling anxious because of the pandemic — and who isn’t? — Upstate’s director of integrative medicine, Kaushal Nanavati, MD, recommends taking a moment to breathe deeply.
“Take a nice, deep inhaling breath, the longest inhale possible,” he coaches, “and take even longer to breathe out. Slowly, slowly, slowly.”
Taking time to breathe slowly and deeply helps break your pattern of thinking.
“As we start to get anxious, the emotions spiral. In our brain, the prefrontal cortex that helps us with some of our logic doesn’t get a chance to get activated,” Nanavati describes. “When we take a deep breath and we calm ourselves down, that part of our brain can get engaged again. That helps us use reason and logic and be able to think about, ‘OK, in this situation, what is in my control?’
“We have good science behind this. We know that with 10 minutes of nice, deep breathing,” Nanavati says:
-- Levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, drop. This not only helps reduce stress, but can help prevent our immune
system from weakening. Lower levels of cortisol are also helpful for blood sugar and inflammation in the body.
Cortisol can also affect blood pressure.
-- Levels of the “fight or flight” hormone, adrenaline, drop, which helps reduce anxious feelings.
-- Levels of the hormone melatonin rise. This can help with sleep and in boosting the immune system.
-- Levels of the chemical serotonin rise. This can enhance our mood and help with gut motility.
-- Levels of the chemical messenger dopamine rise, increasing our sensation of pleasure.
Now, getting back to what is within our control. Nanavati points to proper handwashing and social distancing. He says those are two of the best steps we can take to reduce the ability of the virus to spread.
Some anxiety over this uncertainty may be expected. Nanavati’s reminder: “This is not something to panic about. It’s something to be practical about.”
(Hear Kaushal Nanavati, MD, discuss ways to keep calm in this interview with Upstate's "HealthLink on Air.")
Upstate Health magazine cover for spring 2020, special coronavirus editionThis article is from the spring 2020 Upstate Health magazine, a special edition dealing with the coronavirus.