Breathing is a natural physiological process that we take for granted. We do it without even thinking about it, but rarely do we use it to our advantage. When you harness the power of your breath, you have the ability to calm the mind and address anxiety on a physiological level. Controlling your breath can slow your heart and reduce the severity of panic attacks, fatigue, nervousness, and other symptoms of anxiety.
How Does Breathing Relate To Anxiety?
Anyone who has experienced a panic attack or high anxiety knows the feeling of taking out-of-control rapid breaths. This is known as thoracic breathing, or chest breathing. While in an anxious state, you don’t even realize that you aren’t taking long, slow breaths. Thoracic breathing can induce dizziness or muscle tension because this breathing doesn’t sufficiently oxygenate the blood. It actually signals a stress response, increasing the severity of the anxiety or panic attack.
Diaphragmatic breathing, on the other hand, involves expanding and contracting the abdomen with each breath. When the breaths are slow and steady, the body can transition out of the stressed fight or flight mode and head into a more relaxed state. Slower abdominal breathing helps to calm the nervous system, switching that anxious response to a calmer feeling. You’ll find several breathing techniques for calming anxiety below.
While deep breathing can be beneficial for people with anxiety, experts recommend slow breathing for anxiety relief. The slow breathing technique is beneficial for anxiety or panic attacks, primarily because it slows the heart rate. It isn’t complicated either! When anxiety strikes, all you need to do is focus on elongating your exhale, or out-breath. As you breath out slowly, you’ll find that you naturally breathe at a slower pace. Lengthening the breath keeps you focused on this action, not your anxiety. Some people find that it is useful to imagine yourself blowing up a balloon with a minimal amount of force. Keep your shoulders relaxed and release the tension as your breath exits the body.
Bumble Bee Breathing
If you don’t want to feel embarrassed, consider being alone when you practice this breathing technique. For thousands of years, many cultures used this technique to calm the mind, reduce stress, and assist with meditation. To engage in bumble bee breathing, start by relaxing your shoulders. Close your throat slightly, use your thumbs to cover your ears, and use the rest of your fingers to cover your eyes. Keep your jaw relaxed, but keep your lips closed. After taking a breath, exhale slowly, making a low buzzing sound. Repeat this for 10 breaths, making your exhales as long as possible. After the buzzing breaths, sit for a while and enjoy the peaceful silence.
It can be beneficial to sit down while engaging in this breathing technique. Place one hand just above your belt line and place the other hand on your sternum. The hand on your belly will be your guide to inform you if you are doing this technique correctly. Take a gentle sigh and let your shoulders relax with that exhale. You don’t want to empty your lungs; rather, the goal of the sigh is to relax the upper body. Close your mouth and pause for a few seconds before inhaling through your nose. When you inhale, be sure to push your stomach out; this initiates the inhale. If you feel your hand on your chest rise first, start from the beginning. After inhaling as much air as possible, pause for however long you like (start with a few seconds), and then open your mouth and exhale as you suck your belly in. Repeat this process until you are relaxed.