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3 Things You Should Know about Breathing and Anxiety

How Breathing Contributes to and Relieves Anxiety

Breathing is obviously necessary to sustain life. Each breath in infuses oxygen into your bloodstream to nourish your body. At the same time, breathing out releases carbon dioxide, a waste product also carried through your blood. Not breathing properly can add to your anxiety, stress, fatigue and both physical and emotional problems. But breathing the right way actually relieves anxiety.

Improper Breathing Contributes to Anxiety

When you feel anxious, your breathing changes. This improper breathing actually contributes to anxiety, making your symptoms of stress or a panic attack worse. Most people breathe directly from their chest in short breaths when feeling anxious, instead of breathing deeply from their diaphragm.

Breathing like this from the chest is called thoracic breathing. Instead of providing enough oxygen to your body's systems, this method actually disrupts the oxygenation process.

At the same time as your oxygen levels decrease, carbon dioxide builds up in the body. As a result, your heartbeat speeds up. You may feel dizzy. Your muscles become tense and you experience other physical symptoms as part of a stress response that makes your attack even worse.

When you breathe deeply from your diaphragm, this stimulates your body's parasympathetic nervous system. This is the part of your peripheral nervous system that regulates heart rate, blood flow, digestion and breathing. When you are having an anxiety attack or even just feeling stressed, breathing deeply calms you down. Deep Breathing helps you stay out of the natural fight-or-flight mode that occurs in times of intense stress or fear.

Chest Breathing vs. Abdominal Breathing

We breathe all day, every day. Most of these breaths are taken without a thought. But if you pay attention to your breath, you will notice two types of patterns. The first type is chest breath, also called thoracic breathing. The second type is abdominal breath, also called diaphragmatic breathing.

Thoracic Breathing
Thoracic breathing is shallow, coming from your chest and only involving quick, short breaths. When you have an attack, pay attention to your breathing. You will most likely notice that this is the breath pattern you are using. Thoracic breathing contributes to anxiety.

Diaphragmatic Breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing, breathing from the abdomen, consists of deep, long and even breaths. This breathing comes from your diaphragm. With each breath, your lungs fill with air pulled in through your nose and mouth. Diaphragmatic breathing relieves anxiety.

To know which type of breathing you are using, place a hand on your upper abdomen at the waist and one on your chest. With each breath, the hand which raises the most indicates whether you are breathing from your chest or diaphragm. By noticing these changes in your breathing, you can use breath to relieve the feeling of being anxious.

Proper Breathing Relieves Anxiety

If you feel anxious, perform deep breathing exercises. Correct breathing from the abdomen relieves anxiety. Even better, you can perform these exercises anywhere. You can do them sitting down or standing up.

Simple Breathing Exercises to Relieve Anxiety
Step One: Inhale deeply and slowly through your nose while keeping your shoulders relaxed. This breath should expand your abdomen without your chest rising very much.

Step Two: Slowly exhale through your mouth. As you do this, ensure your jaw stays relaxed as the air passes through your lips to create a "whoosh" sound.

Step Three: Repeat the exercise for several minutes until you feel better. Remember to keep your body relaxed. Close your eyes as desired.

If you initially feel more anxiety while performing this simple breathing exercise, keep practicing. You may feel more anxious because you are focusing on your breathing. But with practice, you can learn to relax and allow the exercise to work.

Anxiety Therapy in Raleigh, North Carolina

Anxiety therapy is the best place for learning anxiety coping skills like the deep breathing exercise, above. In therapy, you can also learn why you experience anxiety and how to improve your condition for less impact on your everyday life. Greene Psychology Group in Raleigh, NC provides anxiety therapy through virtual and in-person sessions. To schedule your first visit, call Greene Psychology Group at 919-205-533

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