How Breathing Calms Anxiety (And The Right Way To Do It)
People will tell breathing calms anxiety, but it's common for them to leave out the how. Think about it for a second. What's the first thing that someone says to you when they notice you are tense, upset, anxious or stressed?
That's right, "breathe."
For some (me included) this is frustrating because it oversimplifies a complex issue. I don't get frustrated now that I understand how breathing techniques help me when I have my moments. Knowing how they give me a hand and how effective they are has given me the understanding I needed to trust the methods. It's not just about breathing; it's about doing so correctly with intention.
How breathing calms anxiety
Have you ever seen someone in a movie pass a paper bag to a person in panic? We learn that those scenes indicate a person is hyperventilating, but we rarely know the true meaning of the bag. While the nature of films is to oversimplify things, let's dive deeper into what happens in a moment of panic.
Hyperventilating is a response that comes from short, shallow breaths. Your body's levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide get out of balance, and you need to reestablish it. A brown lunch sack will increase the CO2 you breathe in and get you closer to homeostasis, but there's a better way.
Breathing techniques focus on stabilizing the rate of your breath. Guided breathing techniques, like Youper's breathing tool, provide a rhythm to follow along and help you reach your balance faster. Rather than struggle with blindly trying to catch your breath and breathe deep at the same time, you get walked through the process with an audio and visual guide.
What is the right way to breathe?
In moments of high anxiety or panic, it's difficult to find the breathing rhythm that will calm you down. A deep breathing technique will calm you down quickly but, without the guidance, it can feel impossible in the moment. A general deep breathing technique is to breathe in for five seconds, hold for two seconds, then exhale for seven seconds. Youper's breathing tool start a little faster and slows down as the cycle continues. The initial speed helps you catch the rhythm easier, then gradually slows you down to the target rate.
Now that you know what tools you need in a moment of need, that's it, right? Wrong!
More than just panic moments
I argue that a guided tool is ideal for those unwelcome moments, but it isn't enough. Practicing in non-panic moments will prepare you and make you abler when the moment you need it strikes. Think about it. Anything you want to be skilled at requires practice before it's time for the live performance. Artists, professionals, and even kids in a spelling bee practice before it's time to perform.
Since you can't know when the next panic moment will occur, it's a good idea to be prepared.
Knowing how to bounce back from a moment of panic, stress or anger can be the difference between achieving your goal and quitting out of frustration (or complete avoidance). Knowing how to manage these situations will bring you more of what you want in life and minimize failures caused by turning your back on something.
When these moments come, you know it's important to reach for a guided breathing tool, not a brown paper bag. Practicing deep breathing will improve your ability, making you more capable and in control in the moment of need.
Do you have a breathing story or a tool you'd like to share? Tell us in the comments below.