Breathing exercises can help control panic attacks and anxiety.
Changing your breathing is one of the quickest ways to change your state from panic to calm.
Many people dismiss the idea of changing their breathing to control their anxiety because it appears too simple. Sometimes they try a breathing exercise and give up because they haven’t learnt how to breathe properly.
By Rebecca Sanderson – Director of The Mindset Clinic
21st September 2016
Simple and powerful technique to control anxiety and panic attacks.
If you have panic attacks, experience anxiety or have a general anxiety disorder then this technique will help you to gain control and a sense of calm in a matter of seconds. It is possibly one of the most powerful ways to stop anxiety and anxious thoughts.
When you breathe deeply and comfortably you relax.
Most people with anxiety that we see at The Mindset Clinic have perfected the art of breathing incorrectly. They have a bad breathing habit. They breathe rapidly and shallowly from their chest. When you do this you start to hyperventilate. Hyperventilation is over breathing. Hyperventilation brings in too much oxygen into the body which makes you feel light headed, faint and disorientated.
“I can’t catch my breath”
I hear this a lot from people with anxiety. The more they think about their breathing the more it feels that they can’t get enough air into their lungs. But in actual fact the opposite is happening. They are getting too much air and are hyperventilating. Quite often they are told “take a deep breath”. So they take a deep breath, then another, then another and forget the important step of breathing out! What they need to do is learn how to breathe properly. Hyperventilation is a symptom of too much oxygen.
A panic attack = too much oxygen
For your body to make use of the oxygen in the body it needs to have time to extract it from your blood. In order to do this it needs carbon dioxide. If you over breathe you have too much oxygen and expel too much carbon dioxide which changes your bloods acidity. By breathing rapidly you can feel faint, dizzy and light headed, and feel like you are short of breath. Some people experience tingling and numbness, a rapid heartbeat and some people flap their hands and feet. Sometimes people feel chest pain and a heaviness in their chest. They then panic because they fear having a heart attack. But the pain is caused by the muscles of the chest tightening. All because they have too much oxygen!
Learn how to breathe properly
If you have ever watched a baby sleep you will notice their tummies rise up and down as they breathe. Their shoulders and chests remain still. When someone with anxiety breathes their shoulders rise up and their chests expand out.
Because breathing is an autonomic function, ie it is something that we don’t really think about too much we can be unaware of how we are breathing until we start to find it difficult or we start to feel that we are not getting enough breath.
One of the first things I teach somebody who experiences anxiety or panic attacks is how to breathe properly.
Many people are dismissive of the power of breathing until they understand that it can rapidly change how they feel. When they first attempt to change the way they breathe it can feel very strange and uncomfortable. This is normal. When you learn anything new especially something as fundamental as breathing it can feel a bit odd if you change the way you do it.
How to tell if you are breathing from your chest or diaphragm
- Place one hand on your chest and the other on your tummy.
- Take a breath in and see which hand moves.
- If you are breathing correctly your hand on your chest will stay still and the hand on your tummy will move out.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Technique to control anxiety and Panic Attacks
- Keep one hand on your chest and the other on your tummy.
- Open your mouth and gently let out a sigh. As you do let your shoulders and chest relax.
- Close your mouth and pause for a few seconds
- Keep your mouth closed and start to push your tummy out and as you do breathe in slowly to the count of 6 through your nose.
- Hold the breath for a couple of seconds before breathing out slowly to the count of 6 through your nose and pulling your tummy in.
- Pause for a couple of seconds before repeating.
- Practice this for a few breaths
When you first start to practice this you may find that 6 seconds is too long. In which case just reduce this, making sure that you match the number of seconds that you breathe in and out.
If you start to feel light headed or begin to yawn this is an indication that you are breathing to fast. Just slow down your breathing to a comfortable pace.
Keep an eye on your hands to check that you are breathing correctly. The hand on your tummy should move in and out, the one on your chest should remain still. Keep at it, soon you will find that this way of breathing becomes automatic and you won’t need to place your hands on your chest and tummy.
Many people like to use positive affirmations whilst breathing. For example you could try thinking “I am calm and in control”. However, when you first start and are trying to count at the same time you could feel a bit overwhelmed so perhaps aim to build up to this.
Practice this every day for a couple of minutes. A good time to do this is when you first wake up in the morning so that you can start the day relaxed, calm and centred.
If you start to experience the onset of panic or anxiety at any point during the day or night simply breathe your way to relaxation.
It is a physiological impossibility to be relaxed and stressed at the same time so by taking control of your breathing you are taking control of the situation.
Freeing yourself from anxiety needn’t be a long drawn out process. The Mindset Clinic achieves rapid results with the people that we see. Understanding how anxiety works and re-educating the brain is our specialty. We consider ourselves to be very privileged to be able to help people who have become so scared of life that at times the future feels too bleak to even consider. If you need help getting your life back on track then please get in touch to see how we can help you too – firstname.lastname@example.org