As I’ve read over the comments and emails that I have received so far regarding this series, I’ve continued to see common threads through most of the responses, one of them being the importance of proper breathing.
Learning to breathe deeply is beneficial, not only for keeping anxiety and panic attacks under control, but for many other reasons, including aiding digestion, immune support and more.
Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. This is because when you breathe deeply it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to your body. Those things that happen when you are stressed, such as increased heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure, all decrease as you breathe deeply to relax.
When I was experiencing my panic attack on the plane, prior to noticing anything else (besides feeling a bit nauseous) was the way my hands tingled and then my fingers and hands cramped and constricted (something called carpopedal spasms). It was alarming but I knew what it was, as it had happened before: I was hyperventalating due to improper breathing.
It took me another month, and a visit with my doctor and a psychiatrist, to put the pieces together that I was in the throes of a panic disorder, but it was at that time that I came to terms with the role that my breathing played in the way my body was reacting.
Tips for Deep Breathing
We all know how to breathe – our body just does it. But there are different types of breathing and some are a lot more efficient than others.
When I ran track, the way I would breathe for a sprinting race was different than how I breathed during a long run. My body had different needs during those runs and was using oxygen differently.
The thing is, our body isn’t always naturally efficient. Or sometimes, it listens to us too well, eg: when we are in the midst of emotional distress and our body thinks it needs to run.
But we can teach our body to react differently.
And that’s what this is about.
Below, I’ve listed four different techniques that have worked for me. Ideally, you will want to find a quiet spot alone, to sit comfortably. I know that isn’t always possible (hello moms of toddlers!), but these can be effective and helpful, even if sitting in a business meeting.
Breathe in while counting to 4 and exhale while counting to 4.
Do this for several cycles, paying attention to keep your counting consistent, but focusing on how your body is feeling throughout the breaths. If you lose count, it’s ok – start over.
Try to do this for at least 5 minutes, but shoot for 10, if possible.
The first several times you do this, you may want to try it while lying down, so that you can feel your belly rise and fall – a sign that you are taking deep breaths.
Years ago in drama class, I was taught this technique, and it’s been helpful many times since. The purpose of this is to focus on parts of the body, tightening and relaxing each part for a count as you move up the body, while also paying attention to your breathing.
Start at your toes. Tighten and relax them for 5 seconds. Work your way up through the body, keeping your breathing slow, through the nose on an inhale and through the mouth on exhales.
Alternate Nostril Breathing:
I learned this technique recently, while working with my children through the book Anxiety-Free Kids: An Interactive Guide for Parents and Children, by Bonnie Zucker
The premise is to press one nostril closed with your fingertip. Close your mouth and breathe slowly through the open nostril. Alternate nostrils.
Proper breathing is an excellent place to start in learning to relax and calm your body. We’ve all learned this at various points along the line, but life gets busy and we forget… Taking the time to practice and prepare, could help make a difference a stress and anxiety begin to make you feel overwhelmed.
When I met Randy, I had to fly by myself for the first time in several years. I was, for obvious reasons, anxious. I did not want another ambulance meeting me at the airport.
One of the songs that I listened to a lot during that time was Breathe, by Télépopmusik (listen below). It became one of the best reminders for me, and even the rhythm is soothing to me. (I later wrote a post about our hashtag #Breathe and our reminder to each other to breathe and stay calm.)
Randy knew I was struggling and sent me a text that simply said #Breathe as I was boarding the plane.
I got comfortable in my seat and put this song on repeat.
‘Just breathe’ has since become part of our family language — those two words serve as a simple reminder to do just that, whether it’s the kids or us (or both) who are needing it.
Do you have a breathing technique that helps you? Please share it in comments.
This is the 5th post in a 31 Day Series: 31 Days to Peace: Finding inner peace for anxiety and panic attacks. Start from the beginning here.