Shallow breathing is an automatic physical response to anxiety, and shallow breathing can also cause anxiety - it’s a bit of a chicken and egg thing, a loop where it’s hard to find which comes first.
Learning to change your breathing can help you control anxiety and become calm. It sounds very simple, but like all simple truths it can take a while to get the hang of.
Here’s how to get started in controlling your breath to reduce anxiety when it strikes, and better still, to train yourself to feel calm and in control so that anxiety doesn’t catch you unawares.
You can learn to notice the signs of increased anxiety before it peaks. Once you're aware of the increasing presence of anxiety, you can consciously counteract it by slowing and deepening your breath.
If you know certain situations make you feel anxious, then start breathing deeply and slowly before you are in that situation. You could think of it like a protection routine. Just like a diver checks his oxygen tank and mask and tests breathing with them before jumping into the sea. You can check your posture and breathing before you enter stressful situations.
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Drop your shoulders, stand up straight and breath deeply down into your stomach, gradually slow your breathing down and try and hold your breath for a second before breathing out. When you do breath out, make sure you do it fully and try and pause for a second or two with your lungs empty before you breath in again.
Those who practice meditation know that it is in the gaps between breaths that you can find calm and peace. Calming your breath in this way and allowing pauses between inhalation and exhalation has a direct calming effect on your mind.
If you wake up with anxiety in the morning, you can go through the above to tame it and start your day feeling more in control. It may take some time to get the knack and get in the habit, but it will work, especially if you rise to the challenge and practice regularly.
I often think of how highly trained people such as members of the SAS can handle incredibly volatile situations where most of us would freeze or freak out.
How do they do it? Training and practice. Over and over again. Learning to train and change your breath requires practice too. The good news is that breath training is pleasant and easy. And you can get started today simply download a guided breathing meditation MP3 and listen to it on your computer, or MP3 player every morning and every night. It will only take you about 5 minutes per session and you will start to notice the benefits immediately.
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*UPDATE* Our new collection of breathing exercises for relief from stress and anxiety is now available from CD Baby, Amazon and the iTunes Music Store...