It is important to note how our lives start and end with breathing. As newborns, breathing is the first thing we do coming into the world, and ironically the very last thing we do as we transition. Anxiety, which can be triggered by a chemical imbalance within the brain or by personal trauma, actually changes the way we breathe and often our ability to breathe.
Breathing exercises are needed for anxiety as a result of overcompensation for the autonomic nervous system’s production of too much oxygen resulting in hyperventilation. This has a genetic origin of signaling the brain of impending conflict. Shortness of breath can be horrifying, as many believe they are having a heart attack, thus leading to more intense panic reactions.
The best techniques are ones that can be practiced virtually anywhere and involve reestablishing your natural breathing pattern with filling your lower lungs by gently inhaling through your nostrils followed by exhaling naturally. Breathing naturally through the nose can help keep the signals of impeding doom at bay. Another technique is the “three second breathing to calm” whereby you breathe in slowly through your nose as if you were smelling beautifully scented roses, then hold for three seconds, followed by exhaling slowing as if you were blowing out candles on a birthday cake. Lastly, consider the “count down to tension leaving the body” technique. This technique involves sitting with your eyes closed as you imagine “your happy place,” followed by a slow countdown with each exhale starting with ten until you have reached the number one. When you have counted down to one, imagine all the stress, tension and anxiety leaving your body, and then gradually open your eyes.
Remember that healthy coping capacity and coping strategies are developed with practice in the absence of an actual episode. Contact a mental health professional for a tailored personalized approach to assist you in taking control of anxiety breathing issues.