Faculty Expert, Patricia L. Gerbarg, M.D., Provides Tips on Breathing Techniques for Coping During Unprecedented Times
The type of prolonged stress that people are experiencing with the COVID-19 crisis shifts their nervous systems into a state of sympathetic nervous system dominance.
The type of prolonged stress that people are experiencing with the COVID-19 crisis shifts their nervous systems into a state of sympathetic nervous system dominance, including anxiety, hypervigilance, fear and emotional distancing. According to Patricia L. Gerbarg, M.D., clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, the fastest and safest way to shift the nervous system toward a state of feeling safe, relaxed and engaged with others, is a technique called coherent breathing, using slowed breathing at around five breaths per minute for most adults.
"It is best done with eyes closed in a quiet pace without interruptions. The length of the inhale and exhale are equal. The breath itself should be slow and gentle without exerting muscles to inhale or exhale the air," says Dr. Gerbarg. An integrative psychiatrist, Dr. Gerbarg combines standard and complementary treatments, and focuses her research on mind-body practices for reducing the effects of stress and trauma. She is participating in the free online service HealthFlix, with more than 100 leaders in health, wellbeing, psychology, psychiatry, yoga and lifestyle to help keep people physically and mentally healthy during the coronavirus crisis and beyond. She will be presenting two sessions on breath practices to calm down, sleep better, tolerate stress and improve physical health.