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How Deep Breathing Can Help Reduce Anxiety, Stress and Panic

Posted Aug 27 2008 8:07am

[Image courtesy of Stoker Studios ]

Along with food and water, giving your body a supply of air is essential for maintaining your heath and well being. If you’re not breathing properly then this can cause imbalances in your blood and affect the way your body behaves.

Poor breathing can cause dizziness, shortness of breath and shaking, which are all too familiar symptoms if you suffer from anxiety or panic.

The key is to learn how to breathe deeply in a natural manner that fills your stomach and rib cage, as well as the top part of your chest, and it can be practiced using simple exercises throughout the day.

Why is breathing properly so important?

Breathing regulates the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood. Too much oxygen can cause you to feel agitated and nervous, whilst too much carbon dioxide might calm you temporarily but it can make you feel light headed and distort your responses.

Instead you should practice being able to breath deeply and naturally so that your body can maintain a healthy balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide and behave healthily.

Deep breathing is practiced as part of Tai Chi, Yoga and other forms of meditation due to its effectiveness in helping you think and behave in a clear, healthy manner.

The benefits of breathing properly include:

• Release tension in your neck, chest and diaphragm
• Reduce anxiety and panic by having a healthier balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood so you can think and behave in a calmer, clearer manner
• Reduce build up of stress and tension throughout the day
• When practicing as part of a meditation exercise, breathing can divert your attention from stressful, unhelpful thoughts
• Exhaling for longer than you inhale will help you to relax

Why ‘just take a deep breath’ is bad advice

We’ve all heard the advice to ‘take a deep breath’ when we’re feeling stressed or anxious. However, the problem is that most people interpret this as taking rapid breaths, rather than deep, natural breathing that fills our stomach, as well as our upper chest.

Rapid breathing can simply imbalance the oxygen in your blood, causing you to feel more agitated and nervous. Deep natural breathing is slow and calm, rather than rapidly gulping down oxygen.

So how do I practice deep breathing?

Here are a few breathing exercises you can practice to train your body to keep a healthy balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide, as well as help to reduce stress, panic and anxiety:

Sigh Breath

- Take a moderate breathe through your nose and then slowly exhale, prolonging your exhale for longer than your inhale.
- As you exhale try and relax the muscles in your face and shoulders to release any built up tension.
- When you next inhale, try and divert your attention to the sights and sounds around you without passing judgement on your thoughts but just letting them flow
- This breathing technique works well with mindfulness meditation because it focuses your thoughts away from whatever stresses you’re feeling that day.
- Sigh breathing can be practiced whenever you’ve got a spare minute or two throughout the day, and can help you learn to regulate your breathing.

Easy Breathing

- focus on only your breathing for 3-4 minutes.
- Ignore everything around you other than your breathing
- move your chest and diaphragm in harmony so that you’re breathing naturally, rather than forced
- concentrating on your breathing in this way will divert your thoughts from your anxiety and stress

4-7-8 Breathing

- inhale for four seconds, hold it in for seven seconds then slowly release your breath for eight seconds
- As you exhale release the anxiety , stress and tension from your muscles, shoulder and face
- this exercise helps you to exhale for longer than you inhale, which can help your body relax if you’re feeling nervous
- you could practice this at any time, whether on public transport, waiting in a cue or when you’re just at home to help calm your breathing

There are plenty of other breathing exercises you can practice which you can learn more about from books and other resources on the net.

Healthy breathing is an important part of coping with and reducing anxiety, so try a few different breathing exercises to find which ones work best for you and in which situations.

anxiety, breathing, panic, stress
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