If you suffer from an anxiety disorder, you can help calm yourself down by practicing certain breathing exercises. When you have a panic attack, your breathing rate and pattern changes, allowing for other anxiety symptoms to occur, exacerbating your already panicked state. To help calm yourself down, you’ll want to learn how to breathe differently.
People in a heightened state of anxiety or a full-blown panic attack generally breathe using their upper chest (or upper lungs) using shallow, rapid breaths. Upper-lung breathing can lead to hyperventilation, which can compound the symptoms of your panicked state, making it feel worse and last longer.
In situations like this, breathing from your lower chest (or lower lungs) can actually mitigate the severity of your anxiety, helping you return to a baseline level of calm. By breathing using your lower chest, you’ll learn how to properly slow your breathing, which in turn calms the rest of your body and allows your panic to dissipate. Here are some breathing exercises that can help you feel less anxious and calm you down!
The best breathing technique for anxiety is called natural breathing or abdominal breathing. This is actually the ideal way to breathe all the time (unless you’re exercising or playing sports, which require something different). This is the best way to breathe since it provides maximum oxygen into your lungs with each breath you take.
To practice natural breathing, you simply have to slowly and gently inhale a normal amount of air from your nose and feel it filling your lower lungs. At the peak of your normal inhale, when your lower lungs fee full, exhale and repeat. Try it with one hand on your stomach and the other on the top of your chest. As you inhale, the hand on your abdominals should rise, while the hand on your upper chest should stay still. This indicates that you’re properly engaging your diaphragm. Concentrate on filling only your lower lungs with each breath you take, calmly and slowly.
As with many breathing techniques, natural breathing also has the added benefit of helping take your mind from the source of your anxiety. By concentrating on achieving the proper technique, you’re allowing yourself to focus on something other than the anxiety itself.
Another great technique is the calming breath, which is a deep diaphragmatic breathing exercise you can use whenever you’re feeling anxious or panicky. Just like the natural breathing technique, take a long, slow breath in through your nose and fill your lower lungs. But instead of breathing out normally, keep inhaling and fill your upper lungs, too. Hold your breath and count to three, then exhale slowly through pursed lips—this helps relax the muscles in your face, jaw, shoulders and abdomen.
The calming breath technique goes one step farther than the natural breathing technique, flooding your body with oxygen and lowering your heart rate even faster, forcing your body to slow down. This in turn can help convince the brain that its heightened state of stress and nervousness is unwarranted, and it too falls into a calmer, more restful state.
Your Mind-Body Connection
Something to keep in mind when it comes to breathing exercises or any other kind of therapy for anxiety is that they take time. This holds true for nearly every form of treatment, be it prescription drugs, counseling or forming healthy habits—it takes time for you to notice improvement.
But the pathways for that improvement begin to form the moment you decide to make a change for the better. This is why commitment is so important. Many people try breathing exercises for anxiety a couple of times over a week or two and then abandon them as useless when they don’t see any benefit. But by committing to this healthy habit and incorporating it into your daily life, the benefits can be rather shocking.
It’s your mind-body connection that allows for such incredible results. Most things that are worth doing require training—and as you train your body to breathe, your mind begins to recognize the exercise, and it responds accordingly by calming down.
Remember—anxiety isn’t just mental. It’s a physical condition as well. And by training the body how to react to it, the mind will follow.
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