It is no secret that how we breathe has a large impact on our state of being. You can read multiple research accounts on the benefit of breathing and how it should be the number one thing you should work on for your overall health and well-being. How it affects your anxiety is no exception. Manage your breathing, manage your anxiety.
Anxiety in your body
Let’s first discuss the breath in relation to anxiety and where it lives in the body.
Regularly you will hear of, or experience, the feeling of breath restriction when in the throes of an anxiety attack. Your lungs feel restricted and unable to intake their full oxygen capacity.
You simply feel as though you cannot catch your breath. Perhaps a tightness in the throat, a heaviness to your chest, and a sickness in your stomach.
The more we worry and panic about our inability to get that much-needed H2O the more difficult it becomes. Suddenly, we are feeling faint and dizzy, and regulating our breathing seems impossible.
THE TRUTH ABOUT BREATHING AND ANXIETY
The truth is, in this situation, we automatically begin to inhale shorter sharper breathes in order to try and fill our lungs. This is an automatic physiological response – your body is in fight or flight mode.
Your body doesn’t realize is that this has the opposite effect to what you desire.
These shorter, sharper breaths do not provide you with the oxygen and carbon dioxide intake that you require.
As a result, the vicious cycle continues as your panic ensues and your breathing becomes less regulated.
Breathing has a direct impact on how we feel in our bodies as well as how we feel in our minds.
It is important to realize that when we experience an anxiety attack or we can feel it creeping in, then getting control over our breath is a sure-fire way to mitigate a full-blown attack and calm ourselves down.
Breathing incorrectly (that’s right, there is a wrong way to breathe) can even lead to false anxiety.
Anxiety has become present because your current breathing method signals to the brain that you are under attack and in a state of fear.
It mimics how the breath might appear to be if you were in the middle of an anxious episode.
A lot of us naturally take short sharp breathes as though the world’s oxygen might suddenly dissipate. Trying to get as much air in as quickly as possible and what makes it worse? We breathe through our MOUTHS.
This is less than efficient and soon I will tell you why.
What this fast pace, mouth breathing simulates is the exact same type of breathing you might experience with anxiety.
Therefore, you may find that you are always in a mild state of panic to begin with as your body feels the fear of not getting the amount of oxygen it needs.
So what can you do about this?
TO MANAGE YOUR BREATHING YOU MUST BREATHE THROUGH YOUR NOSE
Manage your breathing by breathing through your NOSE, then you will begin to manage your anxiety.
Surely it can’t be that simple?
Well, if it were that simpl a lot more of us would be doing it, wouldn’t we! According to James Nestor, author of Breathe: The New Science of A Lost Art, a whopping 25-50% of us breathe through our mouths.
This is huge!
We have this fixture on our face for the very purpose of allowing us to breathe and instead we breathe through our mouths?!
Here’s why you need to take the initial steps toward habitual nasal breathing (breathing through the nose most if not all of the time).
Firstly, we can inhale fuller and deeper breathes by breathing through the nose. So those short, sharp mouth inhalations we were talking about are doing exactly the opposite of what you’ve hoped.
(Have you ever tried taking these short, sharp breaths through your nose instead of your mouth? It’s actually DIFFICULT. That’s because we were not designed to breathe that way).
Fuller, deeper breaths allow more oxygen to get into the bloodstream.
With this comes a feeling of calm and grounding which we do not get from mouth breathing.
Now this is important to how managing your breath can manage your anxiety – just as I mentioned above, I will say it again:
MOUTH BREATHING TRIGGERS THE FIGHT OR FLIGHT REACTION
So, whether you are in an anxious state or not, you may find that without realizing it your body is constantly on the cusp of panic because your breathing is triggering this response.
THE NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF MOUTH BREATHING ON ANXIETY
The main negative effect of mouth breathing that you should be aware of as an anxiety sufferer is that it can increase the likelihood of anxiety by triggering your fight or flight mode responses.
You are milling in a constant state of fear and panic within the body.
Even if you are not aware that this may be the case, if you’re a mouth breather then it almost certainly is.
You are restricting good airflow which in turn affects your overall health. Without receiving the oxygen in the blood that our bodies need we can be lethargic, agitated, weak, and unfocused.
(Not to mention an increase in blood pressure. Nasal breathing has been proven to quickly and dramatically decrease blood pressure. The health benefits of this are MASSIVE.)
All of these things put you on the back foot when it comes to managing your anxiety.
When you manage your breathing, you manage your anxiety and you begin to manage your overall health and well-being. A healthier body and a healthier mind are better equipped to handle anxiety.
And one of the best ways to build on the health of your mind and body? Focus on quality breathing.
Other possible negative side effects of mouth breathing:
Weakened immune system
These are just a few.
The benefits of nasal breathing are enormous and the by-products of mouth breathing can be harmful in the long term.
IN FOR 6, OUT FOR 6 – BREATH CONTROL
This is a technique that takes very little time out of your day. If you master this exercise then you can manage your breathing and therefore manage your anxiety.
A simple and easy technique to get yourself started on the road to habitual nasal breathing and a master nose breather is the good old fashioned ‘In for 6, our for 6’.
You might think that this is nothing you haven’t heard before BUT if you haven’t actually implemented this exercise into your daily routine then you have not experienced the benefits of this practice.
So, I am happy to tell you again why you need to do this daily and why you should start NOW.
You need to acclimatize yourself to nose breathing
You need to work with exercises like this so that your body can get used to breathing through your nose. Currently, it is running on automatic pilot and without thinking your mouth drops open and your nose is redundant.
It is important to rectify this.
6 breaths in through the nose slowly followed by a slow count of 6 as you exhale.
Instantly a feeling of calm should wash over you as your breathing slows everything down and you allow yourself a break from the fight or flight mode.
Over time you can increase this to counts of 8, 10, 12, and more depending on how well you master the technique.
The aim of this is not to breathe this way consistently but to put your nose to use and over time.
Make it the number one choice of breathing.
NASAL BREATHING BEFORE BED FOR NIGHT TIME ANXIETY
The overall goal here is to reach a place where you are instinctively breathing through your nose at a rate that is beneficial to you. (No more sharp, quick inhales through the mouth).
Managing your anxiety could be as simple as managing your breathing.
Although it might not be a solver of all things it will take you leaps and bounds towards where you wish to be.
Although I highly recommend you finding a variety of moments to sprinkle this exercise in throughout your day. It would be most beneficial to make sure that you at least do it before bed.
Night time over thinking
I’m sure you are no stranger to lack of sleep and an overly active mind right at that moment where you’d be hoping to drift off.
That is where this exercise comes in. As I said previously, the quality of your breathing is far more important than the number of breaths you take.
When we inhale through our nose we optimize for higher oxygen intake.
This in turn lowers blood pressure and induces a feeling of calm. It literally SLOWS US DOWN and that includes our overthinking nighttime brains.
Practicing this exercise before bed (in a bid to eventually become a master nose breather habitually) will help put you in this exact state of calm and rest which is what’s needed before getting some shut eye.
Your brain wants to run at 100 miles per hour thinking and ruminating about every second of every moment of the day combined with a lifetime of worries and fears.
Well, if you’re breathing through your mouth then you are only exacerbating the problem.
That quick sharp breathes are making you more alert (putting you in fight or flight mode) rather than slowing your thoughts and encouraging a wind-down.
Nose Breathing Has a Direct Impact On Sleep And Sleep is EVERYTHING
Lack of sleep can have such negative impacts on your health. Alongside breathing, it is one area of your life that you should make it your job to master.
The more well-rested we are then the better chance our minds and bodies have had to recuperate from the day before. Therefore, the more energy and focus we have for the day ahead.
This is integral for an anxiety sufferer.
When we are tired, hungry, dizzy, lethargic, run-down, or weak then we are far more susceptible to experiencing an anxiety attack or experience anxiety symptoms as our bodies are not in a good state to manage it.
By managing our breathing at night, we give ourselves the best chance of a good night sleep and therefore a greater chance of managing our anxiety.
So, practice the above exercise and focus on the breath. Breathe deeply and fully to a capacity that is comfortable and feel the weight of sleep drift over you as your mind slows down and your body relieves itself of the stresses of the day rather than ruminating on them.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BREATHING
James Nestor has recently written a book called Breathe: The New Science of A Lost Art where he writes in detail about all of his findings over his years of research into this area.
You can listen to him HERE (or watch the video below) speaking to Joe Rogan about the benefits of nose breathing along with the history of face shape, bone structure, food intake, and braces which have all had an effect on how we breathe!
That podcast is definitely worth a listen if you don’t have time to read the book!
For now, the conclusion seems clear that a sure fire way that us anxiety sufferers can begin taking positive steps toward managing our anxiety would be by starting with the basics.
Manage your breathing, manage our anxiety.