Breathing is essential for life, and typically occurs without much thought or effort. When you breathe, blood cells receive oxygen and release carbon dioxide. Breathing improperly can cause several complications such as anxiety, panic attacks, fatigue, and other emotional and physical disturbances.
Generally, there are two types of breathing patterns:
- Abdominal breathing
- Chest breathing
When individuals experience anxiety, they tend to take rapid, shorter breaths that come directly from the upper chest. When you feel the sensation of anxiety, you rarely recognize this kind of breathing. Chest breathing can change the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your body which can cause rapid heart rate, tension, dizziness, and other physical and emotional sensations. The fact that your blood is not getting enough oxygen is a stress response that causes an increase in anxiety and panic attacks ( fight or flight ).
Breathing Technique to Combat Anxiety & Stress
The best way to understand your breathing patterns is to place one hand on your upper stomach and another hand on your chest. As you take breathes notice which hand raises the most. If you’re breathing correctly, your stomach should expand and contract with each breath.
Try this self evaluation when you notice yourself feeling stressed or anxious.
One of the most efficient ways to help ease your anxiety and stress is to practice a breathing technique called, Belly Breathing.
- Place one of your hands right on your pants line and the other hand on your chest.. This will signal to you which part of your body, and what muscles, you are using to breathe.
- Open your mouth and let out a nice sigh, as if someone someone told you something that makes you roll your eyes. As you do this, let your shoulders and muscles of your upper body relax, downward, with the exhale. The point of the sigh is not empty your lungs, but to relax your upper body.
- Close your mouth and chill for a few seconds
- Keep your mouth closed and inhale slowly through your nose by pushing your abdomen out. I like to keep a hand on my chest to make sure my chest is not rising while doing this. The moving of your stomach leads the inhalation by just the smallest bit of a second, this motion is pulling in air. When you’ve inhaled as much as you possibly can, or comfortable with, without your chest moving, stop.
- Chill. Hold it. Hold for whatever length of time you would like. You may feel a little lightheaded or even a yawn, neither is harmful. Treat these as signals to breath slower as you are changing a habit in this exact moment.
- Open your mouth. Exhale through your mouth by pulling your stomach in.
- Repeat the above steps.
You can perform this exercise as often as you would like. It can be done standing up, sitting, or even lying down.
For those new to trying breathwork, I advise you to lay down. It can be much easier to determine if you are chest breathing or stomach breathing, watch your hands.
Be sure to be patient with yourself. Creating new habits can be frustrating or deterring at times. If you find yourself becoming more anxious or frustrated, stop, and try again some other time.
Please note, sometimes people that experience an overwhelming amount of anxiety or stress may feel an increase of anxiety while trying this exercise.
This is simply caused by trying something new and focusing on your breathing, which is not a common practice for most.
Additional Benefits of Focused Breathing
Also, breathing has many benefits – for example, if there are times when you feel an overwhelming release of emotion, crying, shaking. Just be present with these feelings and allow them to take their course.
It’s healthy and can increase the quality of the experience.
Breathwork is a great introduction to meditation. Both are incredibly beneficial and we encourage you to make them common practices in your life. It’s okay to be skeptical or reluctant to trying breath work. Be sure to give your mind, body and soul the attention it deserves and so desperately needs during these uncertain times.
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