Breathing techniques to help anxiety sufferers.
Story: James Priebe
People with anxiety often don’t realize they have it. Stress and whirling disorientation are the norm for them, and they go about their lives without noticing. It’s not until crises occur, like panic attacks, that anxious people realize its seriousness. However, getting help can be very simple sometimes.
Breathing is one of the most accessible remedies for anxiety. First, controlled breathing can act as a signal for your body to relax. Second, by grounding yourself in physical relaxation, you slow the pace of mind chatter.
At first, controlled breathing may seem difficult. For some people, even taking the deepest breath they can is a challenge. However, no matter who you are, there is an exercise that will fit. As always, consult your doctor before you start any new practices, especially pranayama, technique 3 below.
Technique 1: Slow, deep breaths
Take the deepest breath you can, very slowly. Concentrate on breathing, thinking only of the air in your lungs. Hold it for a second, then exhale just as slowly. The point is to pay attention to how you feel; don’t let your attention waver. If you don’t feel even a little more relaxed after a few mindful, slow, and deep breaths, you may need another technique.
This is the first thing recommended when you have anxiety, and if you’ve tried it, you know it almost always helps. This is not an instant cure. Do not use during a panic attack, but as an emergency remedy if you don’t have other techniques. Never underestimate the power of a single deep breath.
Technique 2: The 4-7-8 count breath
In this technique, breaths are taken with a count for each phase: inhale, hold, and exhale. Inhale for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Exhale for a count of eight.
If there’s one technique to master, make it this one. It’s the laser-targeting technique. That is, you can try this as you feel a crisis approaching and it will calm you down if done correctly. This is sometimes specifically recommended by clinicians for patients with anxiety.
Technique 3: Shining skull breathing
This is a pranayama technique, the yoga of breathing. The Sanskrit name for it is kapalbhati pranayam. This is a mouthful for English speakers, and the technique is a little tricky, too.
First, inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. As always, this is done mindfully and carefully. Then, at the height of your inhale, hold the breath for a moment, and exhale quickly out of your nose; not forcefully, but with the aid of your diaphragm and the muscles of your lower belly.
Some pranayama techniques are not recommended for beginners. If you’re not comfortable with the last two techniques, this one should probably be avoided. What constitutes a “quick” breath may be difficult to discern for beginners. You could potentially end up with respiratory or other injuries this way.
Technique 4: Visualization
“Moving the breath,” is essentially a visualization technique to accompany other methods. When you breathe, you inwardly “watch” it move throughout your body. Imagine breath flowing all the way to the top of your head as you inhale watch it swirl there for a minute as you hold your breath, and then watch it flow all the way to your toes as you exhale.
Create your own visualization. The breath can fill your chest and dissipate through fingers and toes. It can enter from the top of your head and make its way down to your toes and flow out the top of your head again. Choose a circuit that suits you.
If you’ve never considered breathing an exercise, these techniques are worth a try. It’s interesting that your quality of life can be altered simply by the way you inhale and exhale. Don’t take a good breath for granted.