Anxiety is our body’s way of responding to a perceived threat and involves a very physical process designed by evolution to enable us to either fight the danger, run from it or hide from it. This is known as the Fight, Flight, Freeze Response. The Fight, Flight, Freeze response is powered by the release of adrenalin into our system which in turns triggers a number of physical responses by the body designed to facilitate one of the survival actions (Fight, Flight or Freezing).
One of these physical responses is a change in the way we breathe. The release of adrenalin into our system changes the quality of our breath from slow and deep to fast and shallow in order to increase our intake of oxygen, which will be used by our body to power our muscles enabling us to deal with the danger. This type of breathing is however only helpful when we are faced by danger that can be dealt with in a physical way, when faced with a psychological or emotional threat, such breathing just makes us feel uncomfortable (dizzy, breathless etc). This type of breathing is called hyperventilation.
Learning to control hyperventilation can significantly reduce the physical symptoms of Anxiety; here are some tips on how this can be done:
1. Learn to breathe from your abdomen instead of your chest. This is sometimes called Diaphragmatic Breathing. To do this place your hands on your stomach and as you breathe in push your stomach into your hands this will help you to engage your diaphragm and result in a calmer, slower, deeper breathing counteracting hyperventilation.
2. Breathe through your nose rather than your mouth. This will encourage a slower, deeper, calmer breathe.
3. Hum on your exhale, this again will slow and deepen your breathe.
4. Aim for 10-12 breathes per minute, this will not only slow your breathe to a calmer level but will also distract you away from the source of our anxiety.
5. Slowly count to four on your inhale and then again on your exhale to slow your breathe down.
For more help managing the symptoms of Anxiety contact The British CBT & Counselling Service. Therapy with our Clinical Psychologists and Counselling Psychologists is available in Richmond (Surrey), Clapham (London), Fulham (London), Marylebone (London), Islington (London), West Bridgford (Nottingham) and Stamford (Lincolnshire) and coming soon Canary Wharf (London).