Breathing and anxiety

How does breathing affect our anxiety?


Anxiety and breathing


I see many clients for anxiety related problems all the time and it still amazes me after all these years, just how a simple breathing exercise helps reduce the symptoms of anxiety.

The symptoms I talk of can be anything from butterflies in the tummy to palpitations in the chest. when we become anxious we tend to take shallow breaths but because our breathing is predominantly unconscious (i.e. we are not aware of the breathing as being controlled but more automatic) we don’t become aware of this until our breathing becomes more of a pronounced problem. Then, when we do realise our breathing is becoming a problem we can dwell on the uncomfortable sensations, and of course, when we dwell on something uncomfortable, we can begin to magnify what is happening or distort our thinking or understanding of what is occurring. This, then causes more anxiety and concern.

So what is the answer? Well, the simple answer is be more relaxed, however most folk don’t know how to relax, or find it very difficult to relax. We need to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. The ‘Para..what?’

The parasympathetic nervous system is part of our nervous system that is unconscious or involuntary, that helps to slow our heart rhythm down when we feel stressed. It can also increase the activity in our gut and glandular functioning, and can relax the sphincter muscles (oo-err).  It can help the flow of blood to various areas and maintains a healthy blood pressure. And, of course, it helps us keep our breathing rate at a comfortable level. All this combined, helps us restore energy to the body.

So it is important for us to stimulate this part of the autonomic nervous system to keep healthy, calm and relaxed. When we are calm and relaxed we cannot be stressed and anxious at the same time.

To practice slowing your breathing down you can try this really simple exercise.

1. Breathe in through your nose to the count of six

2. Hold the in breath for about 4 seconds (or what is comfortable for you)

3. Exhale to the count of six but do this as if blowing gently

4. Repeat for a few minutes

The body needs a little time to adjust from the short shallow breaths to the longer and more composed breaths, so it is important to give this a little time to adjust and not to give up too quickly.

This sort of controlled breathing will oxygenate your blood via the lungs and that will then pass through the body helping feel more invigorated.

I would recommend trying this exercise when it is safe to do so. So, sat down somewhere quiet. This will help you get used to the technique without distraction. The more you carry out this technique, the more you will teach your conscious and unconscious mind to do this automatically and without thought, so it becomes part of your every day life, replacing the old way of breathing in a choppy shallow manner with a new more comfortable and relaxed way.

Why not give this a go right now! Or whenever you recognise that you feel anxious and see what difference it makes.




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