Most of us have heard of the “mind-body connection.” The term is a misnomer that can make one believe that there is a mind and body that are connected but separate. There is no separation. We can use the unity of the mind and body to calm anxiety simply by breathing.
Our body’s innate wisdom
Our bodies know how to breathe without any conscious effort on our part. Of all the autonomic functions such as breathing, heart beating, communication among cells, and so forth, the breath is the easiest to access and change. When we change our breath, we change our bodies, thoughts, and emotions. Using the breath to calm anxiety is a fantastic approach for preventing and relieving tension as it is free, simple, portable, and always available.
What does my breath have to do with anxiety?
I used to have panic attacks and feel anxious most of the time. One of my coworkers noticed that I hyperventilated without realizing it when things were stressful at work. She reminded me to slow my breathing down. That simple act of stopping, detecting, and consciously slowing down and taking a few deep breaths helped me instantly reset my mind and body.
Slow and easy breath
Here is a straightforward exercise that you can try now.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. Don’t strain. Just let it come naturally
- As you breathe in, consciously let your chest muscles relax
- Again, please don’t force it.
- Repeat four times. With each inhalation, allow your chest and then body to relax more.
How do you feel? Are you more relaxed? Repeat this exercise throughout the day. It is a great exercise to use as you begin tasks.
Fight or flight and the breath
Our breathing rate naturally increases during times of stress. We need lots of oxygen if we’re running away from something during a healthy stress response. Our brain and large muscles, including the heart, require large amounts of oxygen when fighting or fleeing from a perceived threat.
Fortunately, we are not usually running from or fighting real threats. However, many of us are stressed most of the time. Our bodies’ baseline levels of tension, respiratory, and heart rates become chronically elevated. Long-term rapid breathing, pulse, and excess muscle tension are harmful. It is crucial to prevent a chronic stress response.
Four Square Breathing
I used four square breathing to stop panic attacks. It works by balancing your breath, grounding you, and distracting you from anxious thoughts. It may be used preventatively or at any stage of a panic attack. Use it at the first sign of panic and you may be able to avoid going into a full-blown panic event. I recommend practicing the technique frequently.
- Slowly breathe into a count of four
- Gently hold your breath in as you count to 4
- Exhale as you count to four
- Out to four before you begin the next breath
- Repeat the cycle as needed until you feel less anxious.
Most of the time, I found that this exercise reduced my feeling so panic within just a few cycles. Sometimes I used it for several cycles when I was in a particularly stressful setting. For example, I was not comfortable flying. I would perform the exercise many times during a flight.
Focus on your heart
This next exercise can have a profound impact on your entire being. The Focus on Your Heart Exercise offers the following benefits:
- Self-empowerment- you gain responsibility for your emotions rather than let them overwhelm you
- Reduced mental, emotional, and physical stress
- Improved energy
- A time out when your emotions are racing
- Opportunity to pause, challenge, and stop negative thoughts and choices
Focus on your heart exercise
- Focus your attention on the middle of your chest behind your breastbone, where your heart is. If you need help staying focused, try putting your hands together as if you are praying. Hold your hands with your thumbs over your breastbone area.
- Focus your breathing on the heart area. Imagine your breath gently moving in and out of the center of your chest. You can observe or count to five with each inhalation and again with each exhalation. Continue breathing in this manner until you are relaxed.
- Recall a pleasant memory or a sensation of gratitude. Keep breathing while focusing on your heart area as you experience the lovely thought. Continue for as long as desired.
Use essential oils to aid breathing exercises
Some people like to use dilute essential oils to enhance breathwork. Mint, rose, orange blossom, sandalwood, and many other essential oils are helpful. You can dilute them l in olive, sesame, or another carrier oil and put a few drops in the middle of your chest to enhance deep breathing. Try placing a drop or two of lavender oil on a handkerchief and taking a few deep breaths inhaling its relaxing scent the next time you feel anxious.
Breathe to prevent and relieve anxiety
Use breathing exercises to prevent and reduce stress anytime, anyplace. Breathing exercises are a primary resource for relieving stress. Even young children can learn relaxing breathing techniques. Breathing exercises are among the quickest, safest, and most effective strategies that you can use to feel better fast.