Breathing Techniques For Anxiety
Your chest is tight, your breath is shallow and your heart is racing: your body is giving you all the tell-tale signs of being really, really stressed. A good deal of research is starting to show that simply focusing on your breath is enough to quell the anxiety. If you're feeling stressed or overwhelmed, one of the best things you can do is take control of your breath. It sends a signal to the brain that you're not in danger, and you'll start to feel physically calmer almost immediately. These specific breathing techniques for anxiety can really help.
The reason why is all to do with a part of our brains called the amygdala. The amygdala is comprised of two almond-shaped nodules that sit deep inside your brain, and have the terribly tough job of reacting to situations that set off our emotions (like fear and anxiety).
Put simply, when life gives you lemons, your amygdala begins to try and make lemonade – and that comes with a whole range of physiological symptoms like sweaty palms and dizziness. When we're stressed or anxious, our amygdala is detecting stimuli that it perceives requires increased energy to respond to.
As such, it sends signals to our body to prepare for response, including increased heart rate and breathing rates. The more stressed we become, the more we tend to breathe (hence the stereotypical image of an anxiety sufferer hyperventilating into a paper bag). The more we breathe, the more oxygen we force into our bloodstream, and this can then make the stress feel even greater as we overload our brain with short breaths.
Because our blood cells need to exchange carbon dioxide with oxygen in order to use the oxygen, lowered carbon dioxide levels mean our bodies can't use the oxygen we have as effectively.
Lowered carbon dioxide levels can cause vasoconstriction — that’s tightening of the blood vessels, which increases blood pressure — leading to dizziness or light headedness, and feelings of anxiety or panic, increasing our sense of stress.
While simply breathing deeply in and out can work, it can be more helpful to have a structured approach that gives you something to really concentrate on and take your mind off the stress at hand.
Easy Relaxation Breathing.
This is a handy technique that you can use to help slow down your breath if you feel the panic setting in.
Ideally, this best done lying with your back on the floor in a comfortable position, but it's totally understandable that you're probably freaking out at work and going full turtle-mode on the office carpet may invite some strange looks.
Place one hand on your chest and then take a deep breath while counting to 10. As you breathe out, imagine that you're blowing the word "relax" out with your air – this will help to settle your shoulders.
Then, inhale slowly again but this time just for three low seconds. You should feel the air go deeper and deeper into your body, right down to your belly button. After three seconds, exhale with another slow three seconds, completing one six-second cycle.
Repeat this five times, and take a break at any time if you feel yourself being light headed. Remember to say (or rather, think) the word "relax" every time you breathe out.
The 4-7-8 Breath.
This technique calls on you to rest your tongue gently on the ridge of tissue behind your upper front teeth, then inhale quietly for a count of four through your nose, hold your breath for a count of seven, then exhale with a whooshing sound for a count of eight through your mouth.
Repeat it four times and you'll be amazed when you emerge feeling quieter and calmer.
What's important is the holding part, it actually flicks off the tap that is essentially pouring stress chemicals into your body.
Interestingly, the 4-7-8 breath has three specific effects over our stress levels:
1. The physical effect
If something happens in the environment, you go into this fight or flight mode – you can't concentrate and your heart is beating faster.
But if you can slow your breathing down it will slow down the other processes because most of them need oxygen to get going. So physically, you're telling your body to 'slow down'.
2. The concentration effect
The fact the 4-7-8 breath is not a rhythm and you have to hold it for quite a long period of time distracts you from your stressful thinking.
You really have to concentrate [on the counts] and it brings you into the present moment and calms you down.
3. The emotional effect
This breathing technique gives you a sense of control – if you can do the breathing successfully you're going to feel like you're doing something to change a situation.
That feeling of being in control of one part of your life is going to make you feel you can manage the other stress in your life better. A minute is all it takes!
When you're sucked in a stress vortex, it can feel like it will require weeks on a Caribbean beach to turn off the brain chatter. Techniques like the 4-7-8 breath prove that all you really need is a minute to change your hyperactive thought patterns.
You find that no matter what technique you use to slow down your breathing, a minute is about what it takes to feel a difference.
If you find it difficult to hold your breath for seven counts and exhale for eight, then Hall says you might like to start off with smaller counts.
Normally I get people to start with three or four seconds breathing in and three or four seconds breathing out, then work up to holding your breath in the middle.
Then you work up to breathing out for longer than breathing in and once you're good at that, switch to something like 4-7-8.
learning how to slow down your breathing is a lot like putting a lid on a bottle: it might not stop your anxiety instantly, but it will certainly stop more of it from gushing out.
Many anxiety sufferers breathe too fast and shallow. When confronted with a feared scenario they breathe rapidly which leads to increased shortness of breath and further hyperventilation. Typically, a stressful situation causes a bodily reaction, like hyperventilation, and our mind negatively reacts to the unpleasant sensation of hyperventilation, causing further stress and increased hyperventilation. Slow breathing can relieve anxiety and prevent you from having a panic attack, if you do it as soon as you notice yourself over-breathing or becoming anxious.
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