I often see people with anxiety scoff at breathing techniques. Which I get; when you live with heavy anxiety for years or are in the middle of a panic attack, simple deep breathing might not work for you.
So here's what I say:
Use it as a preventative technique,
instead of a way to calm down.
A lot of people practice what is called chest breathing, which is exactly what it sounds like; they take shallow breaths in their chests. This upsets the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your body, leading to side effects like muscle tension, dizziness, and increased heart rate, and since your blood isn't getting oxygenated enough it can even trigger a stress response in your body and contribute to anxiety and panic attacks!
This is why it's really important to breathe properly. It can be difficult at first, if you've spent years breathing shallowly, and can even make you dizzy. So be careful and pay attention to your body.
Most advice I see about breathing properly goes along the lines of "breathe with your stomach" and "practice belly breathing." Which doesn't make any sense, because your lungs aren't in your stomach.
How to find your breathing
Do this quick exercise:
1. Place your hands on the sides of your lower rib cage (so below your boobs).
2. Take a deep breath and focus on expanding that part of your rib cage out and to the sides.
3. Exhale all the way out -- use your core to push as much air out as possible. (You don't exhale that way normally; this is just a way to familiarize yourself with your body and breathing muscles.)
Now, try the normal advice of breathing so your stomach expands. Do you feel how much more oxygen you get when you focus on your rib cage? Sure, it's better than shallow chest breathing, but focusing on your lungs instead of your stomach just seems like a smarter way to me. Your belly will expand a bit when you breathe the correct way, too; the point is where you have your focus.
My therapist gave me this breathing technique two years ago and it has really done wonders for me. Instead of using it when I'm already starting to freak out about something, I try to do it several times a day to basically build a calm platform to stand on.
What you want to do is build a habit surrounding it. I like to do it when I'm walking the dogs and match it to my steps, and other great times are when you're driving (to make it easier to deal with other people's incompetent driving, am I right?), when you're standing in line, or when you're doing the dishes.
Photo by Natasha Kasim
If you keep forgetting to do it, set alarms! It's my go-to way for remembering important appointments. I really notice a big difference in my general anxiety levels when I do this breathing regularly. I'm calmer overall, and handle things that go wrong better than I normally would.
If you think about the fact that this is completely free and takes no effort at all (you need to breathe anyway, right?), this is one of the best things you can do to help your anxiety. Exercising is amazing in lowering stress levels, and I stand by it all the way, but the truth is that even if it's a really short 15-minute body weight workout, sometimes you just don't have it in you. Remembering to breathe? A whole lot easier.
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Hi, I'm Erika!
I know what it's like living with anxiety and depression, but living and living are very different things. I believe in practical tips and methods, and I will use them to help you be the brave, daring, darling individual you are.
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