Why Anxiety Changes The Way You Breathe
Your brain and body are hardwired for instantaneous response to stress, regulated by the sympathetic branch of your autonomic nervous system. When you feel scared or anxious, a rapid-fire sequence of hormonal changes and physical responses prepares you to flee or fight. Our ancestors needed this response for survival. Anytime you feel stressed or anxious, your body responds with the same chemical and physical reactions. Its a natural process meant to protect you from danger.
Chest Vs Abdominal Breathing
Most people aren’t really conscious of the way they’re breathing but, generally, there are two types of breathing patterns:
- Diaphragmatic breathing: This type of breathing is a type of deep, even breathing that engages your diaphragm, allowing your lungs to expand and creating negative pressure that drives air in through the nose and mouth, filling your lungs. This is the way newborn babies naturally breathe. You’re also probably using this pattern of breathing when you’re in a relaxed stage of sleep.
- Thoracic breathing: This type of breathing comes from the chest and involves short, rapid breaths. When you’re anxious, you might not even be aware that you’re breathing this way.
The easiest way to determine your breathing pattern is to put one hand on your upper abdomen, near the waist, and the other in the middle of your chest. As you breathe, notice which hand raises the most.
If you’re breathing properly, your abdomen should expand and contract with each breath . It’s especially important to be aware of these differences during stressful and anxious times when you’re more likely to breathe from your chest.
How To Practice Deep Breathing
Deep breathing instead involves taking slower, longer breaths from your stomach to counter the short, rapid breaths that you default to when stressed or anxious.
Rhoads likes to teach deep breathing by first having someone activate their sympathetic nervous system. You can do this by sitting comfortably, closing your eyes and imagining an extremely stressful situation. Notice how your body responds: Your chest might tighten, your breathing might grow shallower and your heart might beat faster.
Next, turn your attention to your breath. Focus on breathing from your stomach, pushing your stomach out each time you inhale. Take longer breaths, counting to at least three for each inhalation and exhalation. Keep doing this even though it may feel uncomfortable at first. After a while, you will start to notice your body feeling more relaxed.
Noticing the differences for yourself in how your body feels is more powerful than anyone describing it to you, Rhoads says.
Deep breathing may be simple, but it isnt necessarily easy. It can quiet your nervous system in a short amount of time, though it probably wont provide instant relief from all anxiety. The more you practice, the better youll get at it and the more youll be able to use it in times of stress to help calm yourself down.
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When You Only Have One Minute
Sometimes you need to calm yourself quickly. The 4-7-8 technique, which takes very little time and can be done sitting or standing, was developed by Dr Andrew Weil. He claims it can be calming and energising and can even help with stress-related health problems ranging from panic attacks to digestive disorders.
Heres what to do:
- Start by having your back flat against a wall or surface.
- Put your tongue behind your top front teeth, keeping it there while you breathe.
- Breathe in quietly through your nose for four counts.
- Hold your breath for seven counts.
- Making a whooshing sound while you breathe out through your mouth for eight counts.
- Repeat from the start, aiming for four cycles.
Quick Read Inhale Exhale
- Deep breathing can help lessen stress and anxiety.
- Deep breathing takes practice it wont be immediately helpful.
- Trying different breathing patterns, being mindful and having peer support can help improve your deep breathing practice.
You probably dont think about your breath that often. Its always there, in the background, when you need it.
But paying more attention to how youre breathing can make a big impact on your stress levels.
When youre stressed or anxious, your breathing tends to be irregular and shallow, says Kristoffer Rhoads, a clinical neuropsychologist who treats patients at the UW Medicine Memory & Brain Wellness Center at Harborview Medical Center. Your chest cavity can only expand and contract so much, which makes it hard to get more air in.
Deep breathing is a practice that enables more air to flow into your body and can help calm your nerves, reducing stress and anxiety. It can also help you improve your attention span and lower pain levels.
Ready to give it a try?
How Is It Related To Breathing
The ANS is a vast series of self-regulating functions that keep us alive, including vasomotor activity, cardiac regulation, the digestive system, urination, sexual arousal, and the respiratory system. Anxiety can have an effect on most of these functions. However, the most immediately noticeable symptom to someone experiencing anxiety is likely to be a sudden change in breathing pattern, which can be the first indicator that something is wrong. Research has shown that anxiety can cause you to experience shortness of breath, faster breathing or hyperventilation, chest tightness, or breathlessness/the feeling of suffocation.
Establish Calm By Engaging The Parasympathetic Nervous System
You do not need to be hyperventilating for anxiety to affect your breathing, You may find, that under stress, you start breathing through your mouth. Its very common, but mouth breathing is essentially an emergency function. To Your brain, you are justifying the emergency response. Your sympathetic nervous system will remain in high gear until your body has an indication that the threat has passed. You may have noticed that rapid shallow breathing can even trigger feelings of anxiety, or symptoms with no apparent trigger.
You can calm this sympathetic response, the rapid heart rate, and breathing difficulties, by activating your parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system response is like switching on an emergency brake to slow your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, decrease your muscle tension and restore your breathing back to its pre-alerted, calm state.
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How To Cure Shortness Of Breath From Anxiety
Try 4-7-8 Breathing Sit or lie comfortably with your back straight. Exhale completely through your mouth. Close your mouth lightly and inhale through your nose quietly to the count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 7. Exhale audibly through your mouth for a count of 8.
Benefits Of Deep Slow Breathing
Mindful breathing practices such as 4-7-8 breathing can produce what Harvard cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson called the relaxation response. You have a natural stress response that’s designed to help you deal with dangerous situations. This fight-or-flight response can help you survive but can take a toll on your health when it’s overused for everyday stresses.
This stress response suppresses your immune system and can cause other health problems, including high blood pressure, depression, and anxiety. The relaxation response interrupts this stress response with a profound sense of rest. Other benefits may include:
Reduced anxiety. A study of college students showed that practicing pranayama reduced test anxiety in students. Another study of senior citizens showed decreased anxiety after two months of deep breathing exercises.
Lower blood pressure. Slow deep breathing for five minutes has been shown to reduce blood pressure and heart rate in people who practice it.
Improved sleep. One of the negative side effects of stress can be trouble sleeping. It can be almost impossible to fall asleep when your body is caught up in the stress response. Practicing deep, slow breathing techniques such as 4-7-8 breathing can trigger your body’s relaxation response and help you get to sleep.
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Musicians And Deep Breathing
Singers are taught to breathe deeply while singing to improve the sound of their voice and to carry a tune without breaking in the middle. If you are a singer or musician who plays a wind instrument and live with social anxiety, you may benefit from practicing deep breathing. Breathing deeply from your abdomen while performing will help to prevent hyperventilation or the feeling that you can’t catch your breath.
Long Term Treatment For Shortness Of Breath
In the long term, the key is to get both your breathing and your anxiety under control.
Breathing strategies tend to focus on “retraining” the mind to breathe correctly.If you have been experiencing anxiety you may have become very used to breathing too quickly. Many experts recommend deep breathing exercises. They’re a form of relaxation exercise that involves sitting still and learning to breathe slowly through your stomach instead of your chest.
These exercises can be lead by an instructor, or you could find a script on a relaxation CD or video. Research suggests that practicing breath training will help your body learn to breathe better, and ultimately prevent hyperventilation. Yoga and meditation also have deep breathing components, and these can help you retrain the way you breathe.
Still, the most important treatment is going to be learning to control your anxiety. Only by managing your anxiety and limiting its symptoms will anxiety-related shortness of breath go away, and will it become possible to reduce any stress you experience during shortness of breath episodes.
Anxiety is a very treatable condition. You can learn to control this anxiety by:
Anxiety is very treatable. With the right techniques, you can overcome your anxiety, manage your symptoms, and experience a better quality of life.
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What Is Diaphragmatic Breathing
Riehl: Diaphragmatic breathing can be described as deep breathing that is applied to help alleviate both physical and emotional symptoms.
When someone is engaging in this type of breathing, they contract their diaphragm by exercising a deeper form of inhaling that extends into their belly. Typically, individuals breathe in their chests, which many refer to as shallow breathing that can actually exacerbate feelings of anxiety and worry.
Through this deeper exchange of incoming oxygen and outgoing carbon dioxide, ones body, as well as their nerves, are calmed down.
Breathing Exercises For Reducing Stress And Anxiety
When youre feeling stressed, an effective tool is learning how to breathe properly. Here are some breathing exercises for stress and anxiety.
When youre feeling stressed or anxious, an effective tool is learning how to breathe properly. While we all know how to breathe, many people dont know how to use their breath to reduce stress.
So why is deep breathing effective, and what are some breathing exercises for stress and anxiety?
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How Do I Practice Deep Breathing For Anxiety
Megan Monahan is a certified meditation instructor and has studied under Dr. Deepak Chopra. She is also the author of the book, Don’t Hate, Meditate.
Diaphragmatic breathing, or deep breathing from the diaphragm rather than the chest, is a way to relax and reduce anxiety of various kinds. Although we are all capable of breathing this way, very few of us do so in our everyday lives.
How Hyperventilation Affects Breathing
When you aren’t getting a full breath, it may feel like you’re not getting enough oxygen, so you try to take deeper breaths. But you’d be surprised to learn that that feeling isn’t caused by not getting enough of a breath – it’s actually caused by getting too much oxygen.
The act of getting too much oxygen can make your body feels like it needs more air, causing you to try to breathe in deeper. This never works, however, because the problem is caused by an overabundance of oxygen and not enough CO2. It may cause your hyperventilation to get worse, causing other symptoms like:
- Leg/Extremity Weakness
- Rapid Heartbeat
This is actually one of the main reasons that anxiety attacks occur. During an anxiety attack, the individual often feels like they aren’t getting enough air so they try to breathe deeper. This causes the body to be depleted of CO2, which can make you feel as though you’re going through a serious health problem – like a heart attack – causing a surge of anxiety that may lead to panic and numerous physical symptoms.
Hyperventilation itself is also often misunderstood. It can occur for several reasons, including:
It’s also possible that coughing or sitting awkwardly can lead to over-breathing, and these may also trigger the symptoms of hyperventilation.
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What Triggers An Anxiety Attack
Unfortunately, a multitude of different scenarios can lure the anxiety monster out from its secret cave, which causes stress and has a negative impact on a persons mental/physical health. Here are some common triggers for anxiety:
Romantic Relationships- Despite there being plenty of fish in the sea, sourcing your soul mate in the modern dating world may cause stress, especially when this metaphorical sea is full of not-so-great options. Both dating/breakups/ongoing relationships can take a lot out of someone, and cause anxiety over time, especially if the relationship isnt working. Before engaging in any deep breathing exercises, I would recommend downloading any one of Taylor Swifts albums to assist with this process
Pandemic Naturally, the end of the world pandemic that has been ongoing for two years will cause stress and increase the likelihood of suffering from anxiety, for a variety of reasons. Yup, we think that even the imaginary friends you created in isolation to keep you company will have developed anxiety at this stage. Weve seen anxiety rates skyrocket and happiness levels decline during this experience for many, and for certain demographics, even suicide rates have increased dramatically.
Family Dynamics- Families big and small can bring lots of joy, especially during the festive holiday season. However, being in the company of your family can also cause further anxiety-inducing situations and exacerbate challenging or toxic family dynamics.
How Long Can Anxiety Symptoms Last
Anxiety attacks typically last no more than 30 minutes, with the symptoms reaching their most intense at about halfway through the attack. Anxiety can build up for hours or even days before the actual attack so it is important to take note of factors that contribute to anxiety to effectively prevent or treat them.
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Other Causes Of Breathing Difficulty
Anxiety may also cause perceived breathing difficulty, simply because any time you’re feeling anxious you may start breathing faster and feel that something is “wrong” even when it isn’t. This is especially true of those that feel anxiety when their chest doesn’t expand during a yawn.
Perceived breathing problems may also lead to real breathing problems if the person responds by trying to breathe in too much air.
Breathing Sets Off A Cascade Of Physical Changes In The Body That Promote Either Stress Or Relaxation
Scrolling social media, amid frantic election-related posts and news of escalating COVID-19 cases, you may have come across a friend reminding everyone to just breathe. In Greater Goods advice for Americans post-election, UC Berkeley professor john a. powell first suggested we take a breath or two get grounded in body, mind, and spirit.
But can just-breathing really make a difference?
In his new book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, journalist James Nestor argues that modern humans have become pretty bad at this most basic act of living. We breathe through our mouths and into our chests, and we do it way too fast. Theres even a phenomenon called email apnea, where multitasking office workers breathe irregularly and shallowly, or even hold their breath, for half a minute or more while glued to their devices.
Besides all the worrisome health problems this may causedetailed pointedly in Nestors bookour ineptitude at breathing may have another big consequence: contributing to our anxiety and other mental health problems.
The rate and depth we breathe at is a huge determinant of our mental state, says Elissa Epel, a professor at UC San Francisco.
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When Is Shortness Of Breath Serious
If shortness of breath is accompanied by other symptoms like pain or discomfort, tightness in the chest, lightheadedness, nausea, or vomiting, its important to seek medical attention immediately.
You should also talk with a doctor if you have experienced shortness of breath for over 1 month or if other symptoms like persistent coughing or swollen ankles are present, as it could be a sign of a more serious condition.
More Home Remedies For Anxiety
Meanwhile, Kogan suggests scheduling stress-relieving activities to make sure they happen. When something isnt planned, the chance of it happening tends to be low. So, its important for people to make time for activities they enjoy that relieve stress. This can include making plans with friends and engaging in leisure activities, she says.
Kogan also recommends externalizing via journaling. Externalizing our thoughts through journaling can be a very helpful way to reduce both stress and anxiety, she says. It helps the mind process stressful thoughts in an organized fashion, which leads to reduced stress and anxiety.
Exercise is one of the best things we can do for physical and emotional well-beingand especially for managing stress and anxiety, adds Dr. Kogan, who also says improving sleep is another key way to keep occasional anxiety at bay.
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