Anxiety is a natural and normal part of life that we all experience from time to time. It’s our natural response to stress, worry or fear. If you’ve ever experienced a panic attack, it can be a very scary experience. For some of us who struggle with an anxiety disorder, it can be debilitating. Luckily, there are a few breathing techniques for anxiety relief that will work wonders for calming your racing mind.
What Is Anxiety?
Fear or anxiety is a natural fear response triggered by danger or stress. Anxiety is defined as fear or nervousness about what might happen, painful or apprehensive uneasiness of mind usually over an impending or anticipated ill, or an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physiological signs (as sweating, tension, and increased pulse), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it.
Whether you are dealing with the general anxiety brought on by day to day stressors or are struggling with an anxiety disorder, it is important to know what you can do to help yourself through those moments of fear and panic. There are a number of natural remedies including breathing techniques that are helpful in managing anxiety.
What Happens When You Experience Anxiety?
Our body is designed to go into a hyper alert state whenever we are in danger, triggering our natural fight or flight response. When this happens, our body releases adrenaline, cortisol and other hormones. Their purpose is to increase our heart rate, sharpen our reflexes, tense our muscles, increase respirations and prepare our body to fight for our lives or flee for our lives.
Although most of us are rarely faced with life threatening situations on a regular basis, when we are coping with stressful situations that invoke fear, our brain and body respond to the fear in the same fashion as it would if there was an imminent threat in front of us – triggering our fight or flight response. In this state, your experience may range from unease and a low level sense of fear to full blown panic.
Why Do I Have Panic Attacks?
Panic attacks can come out of nowhere and hit at the worst moments. When you are in the grips of a panic attack, you may feel like you can’t breath or even that you are dying. Panic attacks are particularly frightening because they can happen suddenly even when there is no reason for fear. There are no known causes of panic attacks but built up stress could be responsible. Genetics could also play a role in how your body handles stress.
For those of you who have had a panic attack, you can relate to this video:
Using the breathing techniques for anxiety relief discussed in this article can help with general anxiety as well as panic attacks. As soon as you feel a panic attack coming on, focus on one of the breathing techniques until you feel the panic start to pass.
Panic and Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders come in different forms, including Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, PTSD, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. There is no one cause of anxiety disorders and the impact on a person’s life can be mild or severely debilitating. Anxiety Disorders are also linked to physical health issues such as heart disease, digestive disorders, and respiratory disorders. Finding effective treatments for anxiety is essential to live a healthy, happy life.
Breathing Techniques for Anxiety
If you are seeking a natural remedy for anxiety, learning to work with your breath is a great coping tool that can be used anywhere and at any time.
*** Practice these techniques BEFORE you have an anxiety attack so you and your body already know what to do when you need it.
You are not going to easily be able to recall something new that you never practiced in the middle of a panicky episode. Here are three great breathing exercises for stress and anxiety relief:
1. Diaphragmatic Breathing or Belly Breathing
It is common to feel like you cannot catch your breath when experiencing an anxiety or panic attack. Unfortunately, this most likely will cause you to panic more. What’s worse is that people may be telling you to take a deep breath and you feel like you can’t.
This technique is a wonderful tool to help you regulate your breathing when you feel panicky. As you learn this technique, you may want to start out practicing while lying down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Once you feel comfortable with it, try it while sitting or standing. This is a great technique to practice daily. Use it any time you notice that you are starting to feel anxious, overwhelmed or nervous.
- Place one hand on your abdomen, just above your naval, and the other hand in the center of your chest.
- Open your mouth and sigh gently, almost as if mildly irritated. Allow the muscles in your upper body and shoulders to drop down and relax as you gently exhale.
- Close your mouth for a few moments.
- Slowly inhale through your nose, keeping your lips closed. Push your stomach out as you do this to pull air in.
- Pause for a few moments – as long as is comfortable, then open your lips and gently exhale through your mouth while pulling your stomach in.
- Repeat several times.
2. Equal Breathing
This is a basic form of yogic breathing that simply involves breathing for equal counts in and out through the nose. The general recommendation is to breathe in to the count of four and exhale to the count of four. This brings the breath and body into balance.
This technique can be used anywhere and anytime. It is great to use when you are having difficulty falling asleep due to worry or racing thoughts. Just bring your focus to your breath.
3. Contraction & Release Technique
Your body naturally tenses when you are under stress. This technique systematically tenses and consciously releases tension through the breath and muscle contraction. Lay flat on your back as you do this. As you inhale to the count of four, you will contract or tense the muscles in an area of your body. Hold the tension to the count of four, then actively release the tension as you exhale to the count of four. Contract and release each of these muscle groups in order:
- Squeeze your eyes tight shut
- Tighten your jaw
- Pull your shoulders up to your ears
- Pull your shoulder blades together in your back
- Bring your shoulders forward toward your heart
- Tighten your fists
- Tighten your abdomen, pulling your belly button in toward your spine
- Clench your buttocks together
- Tighten your thigh muscles
- With legs straight, flex your ankles to bring your toes toward your body
- With legs straight, point your toes away from your body
As mentioned, the most relaxing way to practice this is while lying down – you will likely fall asleep as you work your way through, however you can do a modified version of this exercise while seated in a chair at work or going about your day. Just keep in mind that, if you are driving, it is a REALLY bad idea to clench your eyes shut. Speaking of sleep though, make sure you are getting enough every day. Not getting enough sleep will increase your cortisol levels which is increase stress levels. Learn some ways to fall asleep faster.
You can also try doing yoga to help relieve stress. Regular is best for beginners or you may try Bikram yoga if you are more advanced. Along with breathing techniques and yoga, getting a pet might also help. Pets are great for anxiety relief. There are also other methods to helping relieve anxiety attacks. A great thing you can learn about is acupressure points on your body. By stimulating these points by applying pressure you can help relieve anxiety. Here are some acupressure points for pain and anxiety relief.
Try these breathing techniques for anxiety relief and see if they can help you. Remember to practice them regularly so you are ready to use them whenever you need.
Health Coach Drew
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