Everyone knows that breathing is an essential part of life, but did you know that breathing plays an essential role in anxiety? This information sheet will briefly discuss the role of breathing in anxiety and guide you through a simple calming technique that uses breathing patterns to help you relax.
Breathing is a powerful determinant of our physical state. When our breathing rate becomes elevated a number of physiological changes begin to occur. Perhaps you’ve noticed this yourself when you‘ve had a fright; you might suddenly gasp, feel a little breathless and a little light-headed, as well as feeling some tingling sensations around your body.
Believe it or not, the way we breathe is a major factor in producing these and other sensations that are noticeable when we are anxious.
You might already know that we breathe in oxygen – which is used by the body – and we breathe out carbon dioxide. In order for the body to run efficiently, there needs to be a balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide, and this balance is maintained through how fast and how deeply we breathe. Of course, the body needs different amounts of oxygen depending on our level of activity. When we exercise, there is an increase in both oxygen and carbon dioxide; in relaxation there is a decrease in both oxygen and carbon dioxide. In both cases the balance is maintained.
When we are anxious though, this balance is disrupted. Essentially, we take in more oxygen than the body needs – in other words we over breathe, or hyperventilate. When this imbalance is detected, the body responds with a number of chemical changes that produce symptoms such as dizziness, light-headedness, confusion, breathlessness, blurred vision, increase in heart rate to pump more blood around, numbness and tingling in the extremities, cold clammy hands and muscle stiffness.
The Calming Technique
While over-breathing and hyperventilation are not specifically dangerous continued over-breathing can leave you feeling exhausted or “on edge” so that you’re more likely to respond to stressful situations with intense anxiety and panic.
Gaining control over your breathing involves both slowing your rate of breathing and changing your breathing style. Use the calming technique by following these steps and you’ll be on your way to developing a better breathing habit.
1. Become aware of your breath
2. Take a breath in for 4 seconds (through the nose if possible)
3. Hold the breath for 2 seconds
4. Release the breath taking 6 seconds (through the nose if possible)., then pause slightly before breathing in again.
5. Practise, practise, practise!
By using the calming technique, you can slow your breathing down and reduce your general level anxiety. With enough practice, it can even help to reduce your anxiety when you are in an anxious situation.