Yesterday, while at the hospital, I came across some information that I'd like to share with you here today. This information comes from the Centre for Clinical Interventions and is retyped exactly as they've prepared (without pictures). If you have any questions about what you read here, please speak to your doctor and/or treatment team.
Anxiety and all the feelings that come with it, are very uncomfortable and sometimes we forget to breathe or we tend overbreathe. I hope that by practicing this exercise, you can change that for yourself moving forward.
Everyone knows that breathing is an essential part of life, but did you know that breathing plays and essential role in anxiety? This information sheet will briefly discuss the role of breathing in anxiety and guide you through a simple calming technique that uses breathing patterns to help you relax.
Breathing is a powerful determinant of physical state. When our breathing rate becomes elevated, a number of physiological changes begin to occur. Perhaps you've noticed this yourself when you've had a fright; you may suddenly gasp, feel a little breathless and a little light-headed, as well as feeling some tingling sensations around your body. Believe it or not, the way we breathe is a major factor in producing these and other sensations that are noticeable when we are anxious.
You might already know that we breath in oxygen - which is used by the body - and we breathe out carbon dioxide. In order for the body to run efficiently, there needs to be a balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide, and this balance is maintained through how fast and how deeply we breathe. Of course, the body needs different amounts of oxygen depending on our level of activity. When we exercise, there is an increase in both oxygen and carbon dioxide; in relaxation there is a decrease in both oxygen and carbon dioxide. In both cases the balance is maintained.
When we are anxious though, this balance is disrupted. Essentially, we take in more oxygen that the body needs - in other words we overbreathe, or hyperventilate. When this imbalance is detected, the body responds with a number of chemical changes that produce symptoms such as dizziness, light-headedness, confusion, breathlessness, blurred vision, increase in heart rate to pump more blood around, numbness and tingling in the extremities, cold clammy hands and muscle stiffness.
The normal rate of breathing is 10-12 breaths per minute - what's your breathing rate?
The Calming Technique
While overbreathing and hyperventilation are not specifically dangerous (it's even used in medical testing!), continued overbreathing can leave you feeling exhausted or "on edge" so that you're more likely to respond to stressful situations with intense anxiety and panic.
Gaining control over your breathing involves both slowing your rate of breathing and changing your breathing style. Use the calming technique following these steps and you'll be on your way to developing a better breathing habit.
- Ensure that you are sitting in a comfortable chair or laying on a bed
- Take a breath in for 4 seconds (through the nose if possible)
- Hold the breath for 2 seconds
- Release the breath taking 6 seconds (through the nose if possible), then pause slightly before breathing in again.
- Practice, practice, practice
- When you first begin changing your breathing, it may be difficult for you to slow your breathing down to this rate. You may wish to try using a 3-in, 1 hold, 4 out breathing rate to start off with.
- When you are doing your breathing exercises, make sure that you are using a stomach breathing style rather than a chest breathing style. You can check this by placing one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. The hand on your stomach should rise when you breath in.
- Try to practice at least once or twice a day at a time when you can relax, relatively free from distraction. This will help to develop a more relaxed breathing habit. The key to progress really is practice, so try to set aside some time each day.
By using the calming technique, you can slow your breathing down and reduce your general level of anxiety. With enough practice, it can even help to reduce your anxiety when you are in an anxious situation.
copied from the handout sheet "Calming Technique" prepared by the Centre for Clinical Interventions Psychotherapy Research and Training