Anxiety is a natural human response to stress or perceived threats. It is a feeling of unease, fear, or worry that can vary in intensity and duration. While occasional anxiety is a normal part of life, excessive and persistent anxiety can be debilitating and interfere with daily functioning. Anxiety can manifest in different ways, including physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms.
Breathing techniques are effective for managing anxiety because they engage the body's relaxation response and help regulate the autonomic nervous system. Here are a few reasons why these techniques can be helpful:
Activating the relaxation response: When we experience anxiety, our body's stress response is activated, leading to increased heart rate, shallow breathing, and tense muscles. By practicing deep, slow breathing techniques, we can stimulate the body's relaxation response. This activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation and counters the effects of the stress response.
Increasing oxygen flow: Deep breathing techniques involve taking slow, deliberate breaths that fully expand the lungs and diaphragm. This deep breathing increases the intake of oxygen and decreases the intake of carbon dioxide. Sufficient oxygen supply to the brain and body has a calming effect, reduces physical tension, and promotes mental clarity.
Redirecting focus and attention: Anxiety often involves intrusive thoughts and excessive worrying. Engaging in breathing exercises requires focused attention on the breath. By redirecting your attention to the physical sensations of breathing, you can shift your focus away from anxious thoughts and bring yourself into the present moment.
Balancing the autonomic nervous system: The autonomic nervous system controls the involuntary functions of the body, including heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. Anxiety tends to disrupt the balance between the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) and parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) branches of the autonomic nervous system. Breathing exercises help restore this balance by activating the parasympathetic system, which promotes relaxation and counters the effects of stress.
Providing a sense of control: Anxiety can make you feel overwhelmed and out of control. Engaging in breathing techniques gives you a practical and accessible tool to manage your anxiety symptoms. By focusing on your breath and consciously regulating it, you regain a sense of control over your body and mind, which can help reduce anxiety.
Here are three simple yet effective breathing exercises you can try
Deep Belly Breathing
Find a comfortable seated position or lie down.
Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.
Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose, allowing your abdomen to rise as you fill your lungs with air.
Exhale slowly through your mouth, letting your abdomen fall as you release the breath.
Continue this deep breathing pattern, focusing on the sensation of your breath moving in and out of your body.
Aim for 5-10 minutes of practice.
Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to relax.
Inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of 4.
Hold your breath for a count of 7.
Exhale forcefully through your mouth to a count of 8, making a "whoosh" sound.
Repeat the cycle for four full breaths.
Over time, you can increase the duration of each phase, but it's essential to maintain the ratio of 4-7-8.
Find a quiet place to sit comfortably.
Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to center yourself.
Inhale slowly through your nose to a count of 4, visualizing the breath traveling up one side of a box.
Hold your breath for a count of 4, visualizing the breath traveling along the top of the box.
Exhale slowly through your mouth for a count of 4, visualizing the breath moving down the other side of the box.
Hold your breath for a count of 4, visualizing the breath moving along the bottom of the box.
Repeat this cycle for several minutes or until you feel a sense of calm.
Remember, breathing exercises should be practiced regularly for optimal benefits. They can help slow down your heart rate, reduce muscle tension, and promote a sense of calm during times of anxiety or stress.
It's important to note that while breathing techniques can be helpful for managing anxiety, they may not be a standalone solution for everyone. If you're experiencing severe or persistent anxiety, it's advisable to seek support from a mental health professional who can provide personalised guidance and treatment options.