Anxiety is the body's natural response to stressful situations like public speaking or taking a test. Although it is a normal part of life, it can become a problem if it interferes with a person's daily activities or if they don't know how to deal with their anxious feelings.
Controlling one's breathing is crucial to managing the symptoms of anxiety. People typically take slow, deep breaths. However, when people experience anxiety, their breathing becomes shallower and faster, which leads to problems. This isn't an ideal situation because this way of breathing causes vertigo, muscle tension, a faster heartbeat, and worsening anxiety symptoms.
How does deep breathing reduce anxiety?
Deep breathing is the best way to deal with the symptoms of rapid shallow breathing. It helps bring the body and mind back to a relaxed state. Deep breathing involves intentionally taking in slow, deep breaths. The person inhales the air through their nose and exhales it through their mouth.
Deep breathing is also known as diaphragmatic breathing or abdominal breathing. This is how most people breathe when they are in a relaxed stage of sleep. It is also how healthy newborn babies breathe. This type of breathing causes several physiological changes that are beneficial to the individual.
When a person inhales, their blood cells absorb oxygen and transport it throughout their body. Simultaneously, carbon dioxide is produced and transported back to the lungs, where it is released when a person exhales.
Anxiety causes people to take fast, shallow breaths, which disrupts the way the body processes oxygen and carbon dioxide. This causes anxiety symptoms such as increased heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate.
Deep breathing is effective as it is capable of reversing the aforementioned physiological changes which lead to lowered feelings of anxiety. Deep breathing provides benefits such as lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, improved immunity, lower levels of stress, and increased feelings of tranquility.
Other than anxiety, deep breathing is effective in helping individuals with mental health conditions like anxiety disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Ways to practice deep breathing for anxiety
Fortunately for those looking to deal with their anxiety, there are many different ways to practice deep breathing.
1) Resonance Breathing
The first step for those looking to practice resonance breathing is to lie down and close their eyes. They then have to gently breathe in through their noses while keeping their mouths closed. They have to do this for roughly 6 seconds while making sure that their lungs don't fill up with too much air.
After the previous steps, they will then have to exhale for six seconds while allowing their body to release the breath slowly and gently without forcing it. They will have to continue doing this for a period of ten minutes, and then take a few additional minutes to stay still and focus on how their body feels.
2) Mindful Breathing
Practicing mindfulness has been shown to have several mental health benefits. One way a person can practice mindfulness is through deep breathing. People who practice mindfulness breathing focus on their breathing while paying attention to the present moment.
Those suggested by therapists or wanting to practice mindful breathing will have to make sure that their minds do not drift off to past or future events but rather focus on the present. People can choose to focus on calming sounds, phrases, and words while they inhale or exhale.
The focus of this deep breathing technique is for the person to let go of their struggles and worries in order to relax. If they notice their thoughts wandering, they can take a deep breath and bring their attention back to the present moment.
3) 4-7-8 Breathing
4-7-8 breathing acts as a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. This deep breathing type is also known as relaxing breath. There are a few simple steps to be followed while using this deep breathing technique for anxiety.
The person has to first place the tip of their tongue behind their upper front teeth. This position has to be maintained throughout the technique. They then have to exhale through their mouths.
The person then has to close their mouth and inhale quietly through their nose for a count of four seconds. They have to then hold their breath for a period of seven seconds, after which they can exhale through their mouth for a period of eight seconds.
These are just a few of the deep breathing techniques that can be used to reduce anxiety. Others include belly breathing, alternate nostril breathing, box breathing, and paced breathing.
Using deep breathing exercises is one of the simplest and best ways to battle anxiety. Its effectiveness is based on the fact that our physical body can influence our mental state.
Steve George Verghese is a trained psychologist with an MSc in Counseling Psychology from the Indian Institute of Psychology and Research.