When making the decision to pursue anxiety self-management, it requires a lifestyle change and willingness to do things different. Through my practice of yoga and meditation, I found the significant changes diaphragm breathing had on my physical body and emotional state.
One of the most important changes I made was re-training my breathing habits. You may be wondering how breathing is important, what’s to know, you breathe in, you breathe out…right:)
Technically that is correct, as long as you’re breathing, you’re alive.
A major physical symptom of a panic attack is shallow breathing, feeling like you can’t breathe and will pass out. This happens when panic activates the fight-flight response of the sympathetic nervous system aka “the gas pedal” and your breathing becomes rapid and short. The body was meant to function on equal amounts of oxygen (O) and carbon dioxide (CO) so when you take in too much oxygen, our system is out of balance and the physical sensations begin. When hyperventilating, this balance is disrupted and the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood causes a response to alert your body that something is wrong.
This is where the power of diaphragm breathing comes in, diaphragm breathing activates the “brake pedal” of the parasympathetic nervous system aka rest and digest response which causes relaxation. This begins the reaction of slowing your heart rate. This breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which then releases a neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, which causes a reduction in heart rate, blood pressure, or both.
The key to this breathing is in achieving “equanimity of breath” or balanced breathing. This is when your inhale and exhale is the same length.
Inhale on a 4 count, exhale on a 4 count.
This will achieve balanced oxygen and carbon dioxide intake in your lungs and blood and made a noticeable difference for me, I hope you have a similar experience. This took some practice as I had to feel where my diaphragm was and it took some getting used to, but it’s now my automatic method of breathing.
Here’s a video, detailing what it looks like to perform diaphragm breathing: