We may not realise it, but when we start to feel even slightly anxious, our breathing pattern changes. We may begin to take quicker, shallower breaths. It’s all part of the body’s survival system kicking in and preparing us for ‘fight or flight’.
This new breathing pattern can lead to hyperventilation, which in turn can result in loss of carbon dioxide from the blood and a decrease in blood pressure.
Why is the body putting us into that terrible state?
Well, it's trying to protect us.
It's giving us everything we need to run or to fight. It's trying to help us survive. Great, isn't it?
But usually, we don't actually need to run or to fight. We might just need to go into an interview, or have a difficult conversation, or order something in a cafe. But for some reason (hint: thinking patterns) the body assumes we're under attack. So, what can we do about it? The amazing thing is that we can control anxiety with our breathing. But taking control of your breathing isn’t as easy as it sounds. You have to practice.
Boring! I hear you say. Why do I have to practice? Why can’t you give me a magic formula? Well, because there isn’t one. Like everything in life you have to put the work in to get the rewards.
I suggest you practice the breathing routine outlined below at least 10 times a day. Practice when you’re not anxious, that way you’ll learn it and have it ready if you ever start to feel anxious.
Take a deep breath in, counting slowly to 4. (try to breath in through your nose, but it’s not essential)
Hold to the count of 2.
Release – slowly – to the count of 8.
Breathe normally for a while, then do the routine again
It’s the longer exhalation that is the calming breath, so even if you can’t remember the ‘4, 2, 8’ routine, just make sure your ‘out’ breath is longer than your 'in' breath.
The aim of diaphragmatic breathing is to fill your lungs to capacity, starting with the bottom of your lungs up. Just imagine you have a balloon in your stomach, and when you breathe in, the balloon expands. When you breathe out, the balloon deflates. Your chest should remain fairly still as you breathe. This technique can seem difficult at first, but gets easier with practice (doesn’t everything?)