If you’ve spent much time researching coping methods for anxiety symptoms, then you’ve probably heard of deep breathing.
That shouldn’t be a surprise. Deep breathing is often mentioned in online articles as a healthy way of dealing with anxiety. This is true for both when you are feeling anxious and as a preventative strategy.
But what is deep breathing anyway? And how can it be effective?
Let’s take away the mystery behind those words to better understand how deep breathing works.
The Meaning Behind the Words “Deep Breathing”
The term “deep breathing” is really a catch-all that is meant to describe intentionally and focused breathing. Typically, you breathe in and out every moment of your life without necessarily being conscious of the action. This is as opposed to intentional acts that you tell your body to do, such as when you pick up an object or even walk.
Breathing is subconscious. It’s just one part of the complicated system that is the human body. The existence of this system is really useful because we don’t have to tell our lungs to take in oxygen all the time. It simply does that for us.
But sometimes your breathing can get away from you. Especially if you’re anxious. You might have experienced faster, shallower breathing during an anxiety attack. And that is a big problem. It keeps you from staying calm and focused. Deep breathing can help restore that focus and calm.
The Physiological Effects of Deep Breathing
Deep breathing is definitely beneficial for your body. As mentioned above, when you experience anxiety, your breathing changes. It gets shallower and you take more rapid breaths. In some cases, you might even hold your breath during an anxiety attack.
Have you ever had that happen to you? You have an anxiety attack, and when it passes you notice that you’ve been holding breath the entire time!
So, here’s how deep breathing can help you physiologically:
- Keeping you to continue breathing, even when experiencing stress
- Absorbing and transmitting oxygen to your cells
- Preventing a stress response from occurring (hyperventilation)
You need oxygen to survive. When you are anxious, your body responds in certain ways that may hinder or promote an excess of that intake of oxygen because it believes you are in danger.
By practicing deep breathing, your body still gets the right amount of oxygen it needs. And that, in turn, means you are able to deal with the stressful situation at hand with more calm and clear thinking.
Deep Breathing and Your Emotions
Have you ever felt that you couldn’t catch your breath? For instance, you were exercising so much that you were left gasping for air. How did that make you feel? Most likely, you felt scared, fearful, panicky, and unsafe.
These are all feelings associated with anxiety!
When you can’t breathe, you feel that you are in great danger. It’s no wonder that, when you are anxious, it will be worse if you can’t breathe properly. However, deep breathing can help with this problem so that you can remain calm.
How Deep Breathing Works in Practice
Deep breathing is a two-fold practice. First, it requires that you practice breathing exercises when you are calm. The reason for this is simple. You need to train your body to be able to stay in control and continue breathing so that your mind can remain calm and you can deal with the problem at hand.
There are several ways to practice deep breathing, such as:
- Sitting in a comfortable position and taking note of each breath you inhale and exhale
- Breathing in through your nose, holding the breath, exhaling through your mouth, then holding on the exhale (with practice, you can increase the amount of time you do each step)
- Lying on your back, placing your hand on your stomach, and breathing in and out deeply, noting how your hand rises and falls
Second, it requires that you consciously use what you have learned. So if you do become anxious, take note of your breath. Are you in control? If not, refocus back on your breathing. Close your eyes, breathe in and out slowly, until you feel more in control. Over time, your body becomes better capable of maintaining your breathing, even when anxiety suddenly hits you as if out of nowhere.
Deep breathing is just one of many tools that you can use to manage anxiety. If you want to learn more about this skill and how to manage anxiety in general, reach out to us for more information.