Stress occurs whenever we have to adapt to change. Small amounts of stress are good for us; through adapting successfully to stressful situations, we become stronger and more competent. Excess stress - stress that is beyond our ability to master - can lead us into a cycle of negative emotions such as worry, fear and anxiety. When this continues without relief, it can become a whirlwind of frustration, anger, exhaustion, self-loathing and depression.

A major component of the stress-response system is the autonomic nervous system, which orchestrates the involuntary functions of the body: cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, hormonal, glandular and immune systems. An intricate network carries messages from the brain to the body in order to regulate these functions. At the same time, messages from the body ascend to inform the brain of the moment-to-moment state of every part of the body. If there is anything amiss with our breathing, the brain needs to know quickly to take action immediately. Respiratory messages have top priority when it comes to getting the brain’s attention.

Of all the autonomic functions of the body, only one can be controlled voluntarily - breathing. By voluntarily changing the rate, depth and pattern of breathing, we can change the messages being sent from the body to the brain. Messages from the respiratory system have rapid, powerful effects on brain centers involved in thought, emotion and behavior.

How often do we have to adapt to change? Every day, we have to digest a certain amount of stress. Breathing can alleviate negative feelings such as fear, anxiety, depression, self-blame and physical discomforts. Breath practices nurture positive emotions, loving feelings, compassion, our sense of connection with what is meaningful in life, and our sense of bonding with others.

There are infinite ways to use the breath to enrich every moment of your life.

Adapted from: The Healing Power of the Breath
Richard P. Brown, MD, Patricia L. Gerbarg, MD
Shambhala 2012

Dr. Gerbarg explains how stress affects every aspect of our lives, including energy levels. She offers a number of easy solutions.

In this hour-long interview, Pam Atherton and Dr. Patricia Gerbarg discuss a number of health-related topics, including:

  • Dr. Gerbarg’s background and interest in Complementary, Alternative, and Integrative Medicine

  • Non-traditional ways to handle stress

  • Stress is a global problem

  • How stress depletes energy

  • How breathing practices balance the stress-response system

  • Melatonin as a sleep aid

  • How to promote better sleep

  • Why we should exercise

  • Role of vitamins and minerals in maintaining energy, reducing risk of dementia, improving depression, and supporting brain health

  • Supplements that improve the effecs of antidepressant medication

  • Fibromyalgia - exhausted stress response system

  • Rhodiola rosea may help in Chronic Fatigue

  • Rhodiola rosea increases cellular energy production

  • The difficulty in diagnosing ADD

  • Complementary treatments for the wide spectrum of biolar disorder


How to Use Herbs, Nutrients & Yoga in Mental Health
Richard P. Brown, MD, Patricia L. Gerbarg, MD. Philip R. Muskin, MD
W.W. Norton & Company 2009

The Rhodiola Revolution
Richard P. Brown and Patricia L. Gerbarg, MD
Rodale 2004

The Healing Power of the Breath
Richard P. Brown, MD, Patricia L. Gerbarg, MD.
Shambala Press, 2012

Patricia L. Gerbarg, MD, Petra Illeg, MD, Richard P. Brown, MD,
Rhodiola Rosea in Psychiatric and Medical Practice. In Rhodiola rosea, Ed. Alain Cuerrier and Kwesi Ampong-Nyarko. Series Traditional Herbal Medicines for Modern Times. Series Ed. Roland Hardman. Taylor & Francis Group, New York.
2015, vol 14:225-252.