Symptoms & Diagnosis

Enhancing Emotion Regulation through Breathing

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Emotion regulation breathingThe National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder (NEA.BPD) recently asked Milton Z. Brown, Ph.D., of Alliant International University, to discuss in-depth the effect our breathing has on our bodies and our emotions. In his lecture titled, “Enhancing Emotion Regulation with Resonance Frequency Paced Breathing Training,” Brown did just that.

“In many practices, I see therapists telling their clients to take a few deep breaths to relax,” Brown said. “What so often happens is clients take a few breaths and they believe that’s enough to help them. In fact, very often, their breaths are not at a slower than normal breathing pace.”

Resonance Frequency Paced Breathing trains you how to effectively take a few deep breaths by slowing down the pace of regular breathing. For most people, that is 10 to 12 breaths per minute. Resonance Frequency Paced Breathing Training slows breathing down to somewhere around five to six breaths per minute.

Heart Rate Variability

Heart rate is tied to how our body responds when a threat is perceived. If you feel threatened, you can feel that pounding and tightness in your chest.

Heart rate variability (HRV) measures that sudden awareness — that pounding in your chest — when the threat is perceived. The vagal withdrawal, or calming down, takes place when the threat has passed.

Lower HRV is prevalent among those with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Brown said. This is a marker of emotional dysregulation due to the fact that, with lower heart rate variability, there is reduced vagal withdrawal. Therefore, the emotions of feeling threatened linger.

Along with low heart rate variability come a host of potential problems, including the following:

  • Higher level of stress reactivity
  • Problems with sustained attention
  • Stronger cortisol reactivity responses
  • Problems inhibiting
  • Problems with flexibility
  • Interference with emotional regulation

While Brown pointed out that, to date, there are no randomized studies on the effect of HRV on Borderline Personality Disorder specifically, the effect increasing HRV has on emotion regulation should not be ignored in recovering from symptoms of BPD.

“In so many disorders, the core is emotional dysregulation,” Brown said. “We want to give clients a tool to help them with triggers, and their reaction to stressors.”

Resonance Frequency Paced Breathing Training may be that tool. However, some people encounter problems with the slow breathing, becoming dizzy or finding themselves unable to control the speed of their breathing. Additionally, controlling your breathing when in a moment of distress is a tall order. Of course, Resonance Frequency Paced Breathing Training is still a young technique and has its challenges.

Studies on Resonance Frequency Paced Breathing Training

Studies have shown favorable results toward increasing HRV and reducing vagal withdrawal in just 10 to 20 sessions of meeting with a therapist and practicing this relaxation method.

During about half of these sessions, the client is monitored by their therapist using physiological bio-feedback equipment. Other sessions focus on the technique, often using the bio-feedback results to show the client how to synchronize their breathing with oscillations in heart rate and blood pressure fluctuations.

In a study on the feasibility of Resonance Frequency Paced Breathing technique led by Brown, he worked with 15 clients diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. He worked with each of them using bio-feedback for eight to 10 one-hour sessions. He also asked them to each practice on their own, daily, for 20 minutes.

The results concluded that 80 percent of the participants mastered the breathing by the second session. By the end of the study, 62 percent continued the practice of Resonance Frequency Paced Breathing and found it helpful.

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