Combat Anxiety by Breathing
Would you like a simple, no-cost technique to manage stress and anxiety? You can learn to combat anxiety by breathing.
In a 2018 survey almost 75% of people reported being so stressed during the previous year they’d felt unable to cope. After the last 18 months this figure will doubtless be higher as health concerns, money worries and family tensions pile up.
Fortunately, nature has provided simple, free techniques to overcome stress and anxiety. One of the most powerful of these is breathing. Self-Care Week champions positive lifestyle choices, so read on to discover how to use your breath to combat tension.
The Science of Breathing
You breathe every second of every day and you might be tempted to take it for granted. Breathing is under both conscious and unconscious control. Your brain regulates your breathing for you without you being aware of it, for example while you’re asleep. But because your thoughts and feelings influence your unconscious breathing, it’s possible to override this system and breathe consciously.
Your brain usually decides when you breathe based on the amount of carbon dioxide in your blood. When you’re at rest, relaxed or sleeping you breathe using your diaphragm, the large dome-shaped muscle sitting below your lungs. As you inhale your diaphragm lowers, your abdomen moves out slightly and your chest stays still. Think about the way a sleeping baby breathes, or imagine a dog at rest. They’re both breathing using their diaphragm.
Stress, Anxiety and Your Breath
When you feel stressed or anxious, your breathing patterns change, often without you noticing. This is because your ‘fight or flight’ response is triggered. You’ll start to take shallower breaths, and you won’t use your diaphragm as much. Instead, your chest will rise. Your body is doing this because it’s preparing you to react to a threat or danger.
This change in breathing is controlled by your sympathetic nervous system, and in turn, breathing in this way tells your body you’re stressed, intensifying its stress reactions. Without knowing it, you may be breathing like this all the time, stoking your stress response and priming your body to be constantly on red alert.
On the other hand, your parasympathetic nervous system helps calm you down. By becoming conscious of your breath you can encourage your parasympathetic nervous system to take charge. So simply by breathing you can stimulate the relaxation centres in your brain and switch off brain cells connected with anxiety.
Your parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated by breathing out. So focussing on gently inhaling and a long exhalation, breathing into your belly rather than your chest, is a simple trick to manage anxiety, even in the midst of a stressful situation.
Breathing for Relaxation
Many people underestimate the power of mindful breathing. Why not give it a try right now?
The first step is to become aware of how you breathe and to concentrate on using your abdomen rather than your chest.
- Mindful Breathing
Conscious or mindful breathing is really simple. Sit in a comfortable position, placing one hand on your chest and one on your abdomen. Breathe in slowly and notice how your chest and abdomen move when you breathe. Ideally, your chest shouldn’t move very much with your shoulders remaining still, while your stomach should expand a little as you breathe in.
That’s it – you’re breathing mindfully. Even a few minutes of mindful breathing each day can be very beneficial.
To strengthen your breathing muscles, lie on your back and place a heavy book on your stomach. Take a deep belly breath so the book rises.
- 4-7-8 breathing
Once you’ve mastered mindful breathing, you could move on to this technique, focussing on exhalation.
Sit in a comfortable position with one hand on your belly and one on your chest, in a similar way to when mindful breathing. Place your tongue behind your upper front teeth. Exhale completely through your mouth, pursing your lips as you do so. Take a slow belly breath in through your nose, counting to 4 in your head. Hold your breath for a count of 7, then breathe out completely for a count of 8. Repeat for a total of four breaths. The idea is to make your exhalation longer than your inhalation, dialling down those brain responses connected with anxiety.
The more you practice breathing techniques the more natural they’ll become. It’s a good idea to practice when you’re not feeling anxious because then it will be easier to tap into calming breaths during times of stress. As you support your parasympathetic nervous system by breathing, it will start to dominate and you may find your anxiety levels decreasing.
Natural Support for Stress and Anxiety
It can be difficult to make positive changes when you’re anxious. If you would like one-to-one support in connection with anxiety and stress, I can provide you with nutritional, dietary and lifestyle solutions to help to reduce stress and its negative effects on your health. Contact me today to start your journey.