Best Breathwork Techniques for Anxiety
Ever notice your breath shorten when you're anxious? It shortens so much sometimes that it sends the body into shock and leads to a panic attack. When your breath is shortened, it signals to the brain that there’s something to fear, like there's a predator around the corner.
Deepening and focusing on your breath and reboot the system and help to heal symptoms of anxiety. Let's explain how.
What is Breathwork?
Breathwork is simply the awareness and control of our breath. When we focus on our breath, we can begin to quiet the mind and let go of the stress that is causing us anxiety. Breathwork is an active form of mindfulness meditation.
It uses specific techniques to focus the mind on deep conscious breaths. These breaths activate the parasympathetic nervous system through the vagus nerve which has the effect of calming the body and mind.
There are many different breathwork practices. Each has a distinct style of breath that can be utilised for different purposes. This can range from healing anxiety and depression, to unearthing emotional trauma and more.
Studies have shown that deep breathing can help to lower blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels (the stress hormone). Participants who practice breathwork for 10 minutes per day for four weeks reported lower levels of anxiety and stress.
Anxiety's Harmful Effects on the Body
The ‘fight or flight’ response isn’t always a bad thing. It’s actually crucial for survival in life-threatening situations. Problems start to arise when 'fight or flight' becomes a person’s default setting. As we’ve evolved, the meaning of fighting for survival has changed.
The brain can't tell the difference between fearing a predator that's about to attack and fearing something in your imagination (i.e. confronting your boss at work in the morning). Both elicit the same biological response.
Today’s anxiety isn't about fighting off predators, it's about our everyday lives; from work stress, to family, money, social media, relationships and a myriad of other things.
For some people, these pressures are overwhelming and have a huge impact on their mental and physical wellbeing. When the body is in a constant state of anxiety, it leads to a number of physical and mental health issues like:
- Suppression of the immune system
- Digestive Issues
- High blood blood pressure
- Insomnia and more
Healing Anxiety Through Breathwork
Breathwork stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system through the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the largest nerve in the body and is responsible for the brain stem’s communication with our major organs and for regulating our emotions.
When we engage in deep breathing we're signalling to the brain that everything is okay. This sets into motion a release of chemicals that brings our physiology back to a calm and open state. In the same way that your shortened anxious breath signals danger, your deepened breath signals an inherent state of peace.
How to Do Breathwork for Anxiety
We recommend starting with a simple deep breathing exercise. This is a mindfulness technique, so remember it’s important to focus your mind on your breath.
To begin breathwork for healing anxiety;
- Find a quiet space to sit or lie down (ensure that your spine is straight)
- Relax and focus your attention on the breath
- Close your eyes
You’re now ready to start the breath:
- Take one long and slow inhale through nose
- Follow the breath as it enters your belly
- Let your belly inflate like a balloon
- Follow the breath up into your chest
- Hold for 3 seconds
- Exhale slowly through the mouth like you’re blowing out a candle
- Repeat this for 10 breaths
You may feel lighter, more calm or refreshed after your first deep breathing exercise. The more consistent you are with the practice the more you will feel the benefits.
- If you’re struggling to focus on your breath and your mind won’t stop thinking, ask yourself; what thought will I think of next? This generally stumps the brain and your mind will go blank for a moment while you refocus on the breath.
- If you are having a high anxiety moment or are worried about having a panic attack, take some time wherever you are to practice the breath 3 times, it will help to give your system a little reset
Other Breathwork Techniques to Try
Once you’ve practiced deep breathing and have felt the immediate effects on the body, you may be inclined to explore more techniques. There are a variety of breathwork practices that range from ancient to modern neuroscience techniques, these include;
- Chakra Body Scan
- Pranayama Breathwork
- Somatic Release Breathwork
- Shamanic Breathwork
- Holotropic Breathwork
- The Wim Hof Method
- Breath of Fire and more.
If you’re struggling with anxiety and are failing to find anything that helps, breathwork may be the answer. When consistently practiced, the benefits of breathwork on the parasympathetic nervous system will give you a greater sense of mindfulness and calm. Although practicing the breath can be difficult at first, don't be discouraged, the more you practice, the more you'll feel the incredible benefits.
The only thing to do now is give a try and see how it feels. Of course, if you're concerned about any of your anxiety symptoms, please consult your doctor.