Stress begins in the mind and has ramifications throughout the body. The stress response increases heart rate and blood pressure, releases hormones (adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol), diverts blood flow from nonessential functions (like digestion) to the muscles to prepare for “fight or flight,” and makes breathing rapid and shallow. We may not be able to directly control heart rate, blood pressure, hormone release, or where our blood is channeled. But we can control our breathing. It’s the only function we do either completely consciously or completely unconsciously. It’s the one area of overlap, because two different sets of muscles and nerves control voluntary and involuntary breathing.
The mind and the body are connected. How we breathe both reflects the state of the nervous system and influences the state of the nervous system. It is impossible to feel stressed when your breathing is regular and slow. Deep breathing is the easiest and most effective way to reduce stress.