How Breathing Correctly Can Cure Anxiety and Stress
A small change to your breathing pattern can have dramatic effects on your emotional state
FEELING ANXIOUS? CHECK YOUR BREATHING
I’m willing to bet that you’re breathing right now…
I was right, wasn’t I?
Well then you might have more control over anxiety and stress than you believe.
A little known fact is that there’s a very strong connection between how you breathe and how you feel.
A small change to your breathing pattern, for example by speeding it up, can have dramatic effects on your emotional state.
What I’m essentially saying is that you might be breathing in a way that increases your anxiety, stress, and panic.
But by extension, by changing your breathing pattern you can decrease that same anxiety, stress, and panic!
And as you’ll see soon, you can even take it one step further and use your breathing pattern to induce relaxation.
HOW MUCH CO2 DO YOU HAVE IN YOUR BLOOD?
An anxious or stressed breathing pattern is different in many ways from its relaxed counterpart.
When anxious or stressed our breathing has a tendency to become fast and shallow. You will also typically find that the transition between the inhale and exhale becomes more jagged.
The real problem with this kind of breathing is however that a faster breath cycle can lead to something called hyperventilation.
Hyperventilation happens when we breathe out too much of the molecule known as CO2, causing a deficiency in the blood.
I actually won’t be surprised if you’re already familiar with many of the uncomfortable symptoms of hyperventilation, like for example:
- An increased heart rate
- Chest pains
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness and/or feeling lightheaded
- Numbness and tingling sensations
- A feeling of being outside your body
- Dry mouth
- And even increased anxiety
We tend to think of these as classic symptoms of anxiety, stress, and panic… But the main culprit is in fact the hyperventilation.
INTRODUCING THE RELAXATION RESPONSE
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum we find relaxed breathing. This is normally characterized by being slow, with a smooth transition between inhale and exhale.
Another thing to take note of is that a breath pattern with a slightly longer exhale than inhale tends to be more relaxing.
And now that you know what a relaxing pattern looks like there’s something very interesting that you can do.
You can intentionally shift your breathing pattern toward being slower and smoother, and thereby more relaxing… By doing this you can actually calm yourself down.
This effect is possible because a relaxing breath pattern triggers something known as the relaxation response. When this response is activated, anxiety, stress, and panic is dialed down.
With enough practice, you can even put yourself in a deep state of relaxation simply through adjusting your breathing pattern.
It’s sort of like a brake you never knew you had. A brake that can make anxiety, panic, and stress grind to a halt.
BREATHE ALL THE WAY INTO YOUR ABDOMEN
The most effective way to activate the relaxation response is by far through using abdominal breathing.
This breathing technique can be practiced in all positions, but I recommend starting by lying on your back on a flat surface.
To test for correct breathing you want to place one hand on your abdomen, and the other one on your chest.
With that done you can gently close your eyes and start by breathing slowly all the way into your abdomen through your nose.
If done correctly you should feel the hand on your abdomen rise noticeably first. The hand on your chest can then follow as you keep drawing in more air.
If you can’t feel your abdomen moving, you might be prone to something called chest breathing. This basically means you breathe more using your chest.
In that case you want to focus your attention on drawing air all the way into your abdomen. Try straightening your spine and relaxing your shoulders.
It might also be helpful to imagine a balloon inflating in your abdomen every time you inhale, then imagine the same balloon deflating as you exhale.
When you feel confident with your ability to draw air into your abdomen, you no longer need to use your hands to check for correct breathing. Let them rest comfortably by your side instead.
After completing an inhale you can choose to hold the air for a second or two, but this isn’t a necessary step to get a relaxing effect. I recommend experimenting with it if you want, and go with whatever method helps you relax most.
As you exhale, you want to do so slowly through either your nose or pursed lips, until your lungs are completely empty.
Pursed lips can help you regulate the flow of air, making it easier to get a slow and smooth exhale.
Keep repeating the steps as you feel your body and mind gradually relaxing.
LIGHTHEADED? IT MIGHT BE HYPERVENTILATION
One thing to keep in mind while practicing is that hyperventilation is quite common whenever you practice a new breathing technique.
If you start feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or maybe even anxious, this is most likely the reason.
As you already know, there is nothing dangerous about hyperventilation nor the symptoms it causes, but they can be a bit uncomfortable.
It just means that you were breathing too deeply or alternatively not slow enough.
I recommend taking a break if this happens, and rather try again later. But the next time, try to breathe less deep, or if possible even slower.
PRACTICE WHENEVER POSSIBLE
As is true for every relaxation technique, to get the most out of abdominal breathing you need to practice often. I recommend aiming for at least two times per day.
You can also try to calm your breathing whenever you feel anxious, stressed, or panicky. This is how I use breathing techniques myself, and it has really made a big difference.
Try it for a couple of weeks and let me know if it has any effect by leaving a comment below. I love to hear your feedback!