Breathing and Our Mental Health


You’ll hear me repeat this quite a bit.  It’s incredibly important for the people who read my posts to understand that I am in no way a proponent of disavowing modern medicine. There is, unfortunately, a need for us to sometimes go to a doctor or a counselor.  None of us are invincible (even if we try to live as though we are when we’re in our twenties).

With that being said, I find it alarming the rate at which we in the United States turn to pharmaceuticals to ease some of our challenges.  I cannot say that I do not use prescription medications when necessary.  Again, I am not insinuating that the uses of prescriptions is unnecessary, but let’s look at some statistics on just mental health and how it is treated by traditional medicine:

There are basically five categories for antidepressants:

The “other types” are medications that don’t neatly fit into any of the other four categories or into a category all their own.  You are welcome to look these up if you’d like (here is where I found the list:, but I don’t want to take up time.  I’m already a bit concerned that I may end up in a rant of sorts… I guess it’s only fair that I apologize in advance (just in case). In each of the five categories, there are anywhere between three to ten different prescriptions.

Why is this alarming you may ask?  In the United States roughly 20.9 million adults live with mood disorders.  On October 19, 2011, the CDC released an article that included the following data which is parsed in the following article online:

  • Eleven percent of Americans aged 12 years and over, takes antidepressant medication.
  • Females are more likely to take antidepressants than are males, and non-Hispanic white persons are more likely to take antidepressants than are non-Hispanic black and Mexican-American persons.
  • About one-third of persons with severe depressive symptoms take antidepressant medication.
  • More than 60% of Americans taking antidepressant medication have taken it for 2 years or longer, with 14% having taken the medication for 10 years or more.
  • Less than one-third of Americans taking one antidepressant medication and less than one-half of those taking multiple antidepressants have seen a mental health professional in the past year.

When I read those statistics, I was filled with a few emotions.

  • Well good!  People are getting the help that they need.
  • Bewilderment – so many are so sad – one of the statistics not listed above, is that roughly 1 in 10 people over the age of 12 takes antidepressants.
  • Anger – less than one half of the people who are taking multiple antidepressants have had professional care in the past year.
  • Concern – not listed in the list above, but I looked up the side effects of anti-depressants.  The side effects range from minor (nausea, lack of libido, dry mouth and weight gain) to more serious (increased blood pressure), to very serious including suicidal thoughts or acting on those thoughts.

So, why are so very many turning in droves to pharmaceuticals to control emotions that we used to control, or work through on our own?  What has changed in our world?

  • The economy crashed in 2008
    • While in a recovery, in Indiana, we are still experiencing 8.7% unemployment rate (national unemployment rate is 7.6% and this only includes those who are on the unemployment rolls, not those who are working “under the table”, are “underemployed” and working two jobs to make what they once made at one job, or folks who have simply given up on looking for work).
    • The foreclosure rate in Indiana is somewhere between 10% and 11% depending on who you ask or where you find your statistics.
    • We are under constant threat of attack or going to war with other countries
    • The political climate in our country is volatile, to say the least.
    • We are inundated with reality TV that puts ideas in our heads and our children’s heads on what we are supposed to strive for as societies ideal of “success” or “beauty”

This is supposed to be a blog to come to for positive information.  I’m betting I probably just bummed out several people who took the time to read through this.  Here is the good news.  Again… I do not recommend pulling anyone off of ANY prescribed medications without first contacting your medical professional and discussing other alternatives.

I’ve learned through the years, that when we were created, we were equipped with an amazing ability to manage our stress levels, and as we travel through life’s journeys, we are programmed to ignore the abilities our Creator gave to each of us.  All of us breathe.  Without exception… each and every one of us breathes.  When we are stressed, we shorten our breaths.  When we are excited, we shorten our breaths.  When we are very aware, we lengthen our breaths.  When we lengthen our breaths, amazing things can happen.  When we lengthen our breaths, we begin to heal.

I’m a firm believer in the art of meditation, and one of the key factors in a successful meditation, is breath control.  We’re not discussing meditation in this article, though (if you want to see a list of benefits to meditating check out  I loved this article, and when I tackle meditation for you, I promise to credit the site again. Before you jump to that site, though, please complete this one).

We breathe to live.  “Breath is Life”.  Yogis in India have practiced the art of breath for thousands of years, literally.  When we take classes that focus on controlled movement (tai chi or yoga), we are taught to control our breathing.  We are actually taught to revert back to the breathing technique infant’s use.  How amazing is it that we learn to stop breathing correctly as we move through our lives?  Breathing has a direct effect on your mental state.  Breathing has a direct effect on your physical state.  Why do we pay so little attention to it?  The long and short of it is two-fold:  we get lazy, and we are influenced by society.  It’s hard to think of being lazy when it comes to breathing, isn’t it?

Just out of curiosity, how many times since you started reading this have you changed your breathing pattern?  It’s that simple.  A tiny bit of focus, and your breathing can become healthier.

Again, let me go back to the benefits of breathing and how simple breathing exercises can benefit your mental health.

  1.  Deep breathing results in less stress.  How?  The parasympathetic nervous system is activated when we breathe in slow deep breaths.  When this system is healthy, our immune system is healthier.  When our immune system is healthy, our “fight or flight” isn’t triggered as readily as it is when we are not tip-top.  Think about an animal in the wild, or even your pet dog.  When my dog was recovering from a very serious injury, his fight or flight kicked in any time I had to move him to take him to the doctor.  He wasn’t mean, he was scared.  Depression is extended periods of fear that have taken control of our lives.  If we eliminate the fears in our life, our fight or flight will reduce in turn, and we will then lower our risk of depression or at the very least, the length of the episodes that we experience.
  2. Deep breathing creates a state in which we are more aware of our surroundings.  If we are more aware, again, we are less fearful.  Fear leads to anger.

Image           (Who doesn’t love Yoda?  )

One of the side effects of depression is anger.  Unfortunately, many of us lash out against the people we love the most in the world.  When we are in a depressed state, unfortunately again, our relationships suffer.  The people who love us the most want us healthy.  We want us healthy.  When we are depressed, though, we may have a tendency to “snap off” and say something we cannot take back.  Once the words are out, we cannot take them back. Of course, this can cause arguments or worse.  When we are in an unhappy situation within our relationships, we can dive into depressive states.  It becomes a nasty cycle.  Rather than spitting out words you will regret, stop and breathe.

ImageBreathing won’t fix everything that is wrong in our lives.  Stopping and taking deep breaths isn’t going to miraculously put your life back in order, but it’s a WONDERFUL starting place.  Each and every one of us has the ability to stop, and count to 5 or 10 or 15 and with each count, breathe in a little deeper until we feel the emotions controlling us losing their grip.  Each of us has the ability to set into place visualizations in conjunction with breathing exercises.  We’ll look at that in a future article.

I hope you take a few extra minutes to breathe deeply today and think back on the things that you have that are GOOD in your life.

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