There is another quick and effective method that can bring relief from anxiety symptoms without the use of medication—breathing. This method can reverse the stages of an anxiety attack and bring you back to a state of calm.
There is one caveat, though. While the right kind of breathing can bring almost instant relief from anxiety, the wrong kind has the potential to make your anxiety worse.
Breathing & Mental Health
Yes, we understand. Thinking about something as simple as breathing regarding a "right" and a "wrong" way to do it just makes you feel even more anxious! After all, isn't breathing supposed to be a natural act? Do we need to overthink it this much?
Some people with anxiety may practice unhelpful habits when it comes to their breathing. Mindfulness and intentional breathing exercises can help you so that breathing can become the natural and healing act that it's supposed to be.
If you're like most people with anxiety, you may take very rapid, shallow breaths. That's because anxiety can trigger your body's "fight or flight" stress response, preparing you to take drastic action to fight off a threat and start breathing shallowly. While this response can be helpful when facing danger in the short term, our bodies were not meant to sustain this heightened response over a long period. Being in a chronic state of fight-or-flight can contribute to health conditions like high blood pressure.
Several things happen to your body as you continue breathing this way. For one thing, as you breathe from your chest, your chest muscles begin to tighten, causing you to feel increased chest pain and heaviness. If you breathe rapidly without any physical exertion, your blood does not oxygenate properly, leading to the following symptoms:
Shortness of breath
Tingling or numbness in your hands and feet
All these symptoms together are part of your body's "emergency response". Your breathing signals the presence of danger, and your body prepares itself to take action. But if this emergency response takes place when no immediate threat is present, these symptoms can be a recipe for an all-out panic attack.
Calming Response Exercises
As the calming response is activated, the oxygenation of your blood improves. This, in turn, causes your breathing and heart rate to slow down. As you take deeper, slower breaths, the muscles in your body become less tense.
Dr. Edmund Jacobson, an early pioneer of relaxation techniques, once famously said: "An anxious mind cannot exist in a relaxed body." This statement is still quoted today by mental health practitioners, and for good reason. The mind-body connection is so powerful that once relaxation is achieved through proper breathing, your mind also becomes calm. The thought patterns that caused you to feel anxious in the first place then become more manageable.
While the calming response takes a bit longer than the emergency response, it is still one of the most efficient and natural ways to combat anxiety.
The calming response begins with abdominal breathing. Abdominal breathing is also referred to as "natural" breathing. That's because it's the way newborn babies breathe. If you observe an infant, you will see that their bellies rise and fall with their breathing. Their chests, however, do not move up and down at all.
By nature, humans breathe from their bellies. It's only when we encounter a "fight or flight" response to danger that we begin to breathe from our chests instead.
Slowly inhale through your nose while keeping your shoulders relaxed. Keep your hand on your belly and note that it rises while your chest remains still during breathing. You don't have to fill your lungs completely; just take in a normal amount of air.
Close your mouth and silently count to three.
Gently exhale through your mouth. Purse your lips, but keep your jaw relaxed.
Take another break for a few seconds. The point of these pauses is to slow down your breathing deliberately.
Repeat these steps for a few minutes, until you notice that your body feels relaxed and calm.
Since it likely took you a long time to get into the bad habit of thoracic breathing, you should also expect that it may take some time to "unlearn" it. To that end, consider practicing this breathing technique several times throughout the day. You can do this exercise any time, whether standing or sitting.
However, if you find that the breathing exercise itself is making you more anxious, give it a break and try it again some other time. There’s a chance you might "overthink" the breathing process, thereby increasing your anxiety symptoms.
More Breathing Exercises
It may also turn out that this one simple breathing exercise isn't enough to alleviate your anxiety. If so, some other simple habits and exercises can also help.
Countdown To Calm Breathing
This exercise takes more time than the abdominal breathing exercise described above. While it may not be as convenient, it forces you to spend more time focusing on relaxation, making it easier for you to tame anxious thoughts.
Take a deep breath and exhale slowly while repeating a mantra such as "This too shall pass," or even just the word "relax."
Close your eyes.
Take ten gentle breaths and slowly count down from 10 to one on each exhale.
Open your eyes when you get to "one."
Visualize each part of your body relaxing.
Carbon Dioxide Rebreathing
This exercise is best used if you are in the midst of a panic attack or you are hyperventilating. It rebalances oxygen and carbon dioxide levels so you can calm down quickly.
Slowly breathe into a paper bag. If you don't have one, breathing into your cupped hands can also do the trick.
Take 5-10 slow, natural breaths.
Deep Breathing To Reduce Anxiety
This exercise won't help you when you're already in the throes of a panic attack, but if you engage in it regularly, it yields a greater sense of calm which can reduce the likelihood of an attack.
Sit up straight with your arms and back supported, ideally in a chair with armrests.
Breathe slowly and deeply through your nose for 5-6 seconds.
Hold for 2-3 seconds.
Slowly breathe out for 6-7 seconds, with lips pursed to make a slight whistling sound.
Repeat ten times.
Online Therapy For Anxiety
While deep breathing may help alleviate your anxiety symptoms, you might need medical advice from a doctor or guidance from a therapist to get to the root cause. Still, traditional therapy might be hard to obtain for individuals experiencing severe anxiety symptoms. These symptoms might spike when you leave the house, for example. Or you may be nervous to talk to a therapist in person. In cases like these, you may find that you’re more comfortable undergoing therapy in an online setting. With internet-based counseling, you can talk to a therapist in a low-pressure setting without ever having to leave the house.
Online therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy, according to research. In a recent study, college students experiencing mild to moderate anxiety were separated into two different groups. One group received traditional office-based therapy while the other underwent an online intervention. While both groups responded positively to treatment, there was no significant difference between outcomes.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
As mentioned in the article, breathing therapy and deep breathing technique are the best for anxiety disorders. Regular practice of this technique will help to calm your body and so your mind. Taking in slow, deep abdominal breaths for a count of 5, holding for a count of 3, and then exhaling slowly through the mouth (lips formed in a circle) for a count of 6 can help stave of anxiety and panic attacks and relieve stress. Do this type of breathing (diaphragmatic breathing) 10 times in a row – one set. Then, practice doing a set in the morning, another one in the afternoon, and one in the evening and anytime in between those times you need to step back and relax.
Do breathing practices help anxiety?
Yes, breathing exercises can definitely help with anxiety disorders and with stress management. Keeping your body calm with oxygenated blood (from deep, abdominal breathing) as opposed to shallow breathing using your chest can help to mitigate the effects of anxiety. Lengthening the breath – breathing in slowly and exhaling even more slowly for a number of seconds – is a safe and free way to help you manage your anxiety. Remember to exhale for a second or two longer than when you inhale. After you exhale, wait for your body to naturally want to take a breath before inhaling slowly again.
Before you begin your breathing practice, be sure to be sitting or lying comfortably first. You can close your eyes or keep them open with a soft focus.
What is the 7/11 breathing technique?
This is an easy way to remember a breathing technique for when you feel overwhelmed with anxiety or are having an anxiety attack. Inhale slowly using your diaphragm (abdominal or belly breathing) for 7 seconds and release (exhale) for 11 seconds. Repeat up to 20 times. A tip is to exhale slower than when you inhale to reach those 11 seconds. If you can’t make it to 11 seconds or on the inhale, make it to 7 seconds, all is good. Do what you can as your body learns this breathing technique.
What Is The 4 7 8 Sleep Breathing Trick?
If you have trouble sleeping, this trick might help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep. According to Healthline, when you’re in bed, exhale through a partially closed mouth, allowing your breath to make a soft whooshing sound. Close your mouth and then inhale through your nose for 4 seconds and hold for 7. Then, exhale slowly, making a soft whooshing sound with your breath through a partially opened mouth. Repeat up 4 to 8 times.
How long are deep breathing exercises?
Depending on the exercise, deep breathing exercises can be anywhere from 5 minutes to 15 minutes. If you’re at work, you might only be able to get in 5 minutes whereas at home or another place that can provide quiet, you can practice your deep breathing exercise for 20 minutes.
When doing any exercise and whether the place is optimal or not, keep in mind to relax your body and try to be in a comfortable position, whether standing or sitting. Also keep in mind that it takes practice and time to strengthen your breathing exercise “muscle.” If you have a weak diaphragm, diaphragmatic breathing will strengthen it.
The goal is to calm your body and relieve stress. This breathing takes practice, especially if your body is used to being in state of anxiety.
When should you do deep breathing exercises?
Practice deep breathing exercises every day and at least once a day. Doing this will help to reduce anxiety and possibly prevent a panic attack. The more work you put up front, the better the payoff – minimizing the severity and frequency of panic attacks for better mental health.
You can practice deep breathing exercises in the morning, afternoon and right before you go to bed. Even practicing deep breathing on break at work or while waiting in line is better than not doing them at all. Make sure you’re sitting or lying comfortably first before you begin.
Some reasons why you might be yawning and taking deep breaths are that you are feeling tired, reacting to an allergen or experiencing anxiety. If you are tired, take some steps to make sure you’re getting a good night’s rest, such as having a regular sleep schedule and avoiding sugar and caffeine in the evening or even earlier in the afternoon. Sometimes medication might be the cause of your sleepiness. If so, talk to your doctor to see how this side effect can be lessened.
Anxiety can cause sleeplessness, and this will undoubtedly make anyone tired. Addressing your symptoms of anxiety so you experience less stress will help you to sleep better. Talking to a therapist, practicing deep breathing, and exercising and eating healthfully are all good ways to help you manage your anxiety and relieve stress.
Why am I taking deep breaths a lot?
Some reasons why you’re taking breaths are that you’re experiencing stress, anxiety, depression, respiratory issues, or allergies. If you find yourself taking more deep breaths or sighing than usual, seek medical advice. You and your doctor can work together to find what is at the root of your deep breathing and come up with a treatment plan for better physical and mental health.
Is deep breathing good for the heart?
Deep breathing is good for the heart. Deep breathing dilates the blood vessels and increases blood flow. Deep breathing has also been shown to lower blood pressure.
Can deep breathing stop a heart attack?
Deep breathing cannot stop a heart attack and neither can coughing, known as CPR coughing. If you feel like you’re having a heart attack, the best thing to do is call 911 and then chew an uncoated 325 mg tablet of aspirin. The sooner you receive medical treatment, the better your chances are of recovering from the heart attack. If you’re in your home by yourself, unlock the door so the paramedics can get in.
What are the symptoms of a weak diaphragm?
A diaphragm is a muscle, which can weaken over time. This can become a common problem for those in old age. Some signs of a weak diaphragm include shortness of breath, poor sleep quality and difficulty exercising. Having shortness of breath while lying down or being chest high in water are other signs of a weak diaphragm.
Diaphragmatic breathing will help to strengthen your diaphragm, and you can do this as you sit or lie. This type of breathing can also relieve stress and anxiety.
What happens to your body when you take deep breaths?
When you take a deep breath, the alveoli (air sacs) in your lungs fill with oxygen. From there, capillaries dilate and carry the oxygenated blood throughout your body, including your organs. The diaphragm pulls down along with your lungs when you take a deep breath. When the diaphragm does this, it creates space for the lungs to expand.
Carbon dioxide is taken in by the alveoli only to be released when the diaphragm is pulled in to exhale the carbon dioxide.
In sum, oxygen comes in, carbon dioxide goes out. The exchange happens when one breathes, but it’s with deep breathing that this exchange is especially of benefit to one’s health. For example, you’ll experience muscle relaxation, which can lower your stress and anxiety.
How can I slow down my breathing?
One way to slow down your breathing is when sitting or lying comfortably, breathe naturally using your belly. You don’t have to take slow inhales or exhales. Just breathe using your natural breathing pattern. You should feel your breath eventually calm down and come easier.
Which pranayama is good for anxiety?
There isn’t one pranayama (yogic breathing) that is the best for anxiety. Check into the types of yogic breathing to see which one fits for what you’re experiencing now. If you want to start with something simple, try practicing the Simhasana (lion’s breath). In brief, you exhale while sticking out your tongue and then making a “ha” sound that comes straight from your diaphragm.
Another pranayama you might want to try is called Anulom Vilom (alternate nostril breathing). With this type of yogic breathing, you alternate breathing through each nostril. For example, you’ll plug the bottom of the right nostril with your thumb while inhaling through the left nostril. Then, block the left nostril while exhaling through the right nostril.
There are many more pranayama that are good for anxiety – some as simple as mindful breathing and others that require more practice. Whatever you chose to practice, know that you’re making a step in the right direction toward stress management. Breathing exercises are important to minimize the effects anxiety has on your life and will benefit your physical health as well.
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