I’m not going to mention the ‘C’ word, but the reality is that it has a lot of folks looking for ways to reduce anxiety. To be honest, I hadn’t planned on my first post being written in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. It sort of changed the direction I planned on taking with this blog, but that is what this whole business has taught me – accept your proverbial kitchen is on fire as soon as possible, pivot your ideas and take them in another direction, then move on.
What happens when your proverbial kitchen is on fire?
Something I have noticed with all this going on is the very high number of individuals with growing anxiety. This is bad for your future health as it leads to chronic health problems. One of the best things you can do to prevent long term health problems is to protect your mental health. Once your mental health becomes questionable, the whole thing goes sour pretty quick. Keeping your anxious mind at bay will help protect your mental health!
There is a lot that can be done to nurture mental health in times of great stress and uncertainty, breathing properly ranks high on my list. Apart from the obvious, proper breathing technique is important to ensure you remain in good health and avoid long term health problems. Would you like to reduce your anxiety, clear your mind and feel calm? I can help.
How does breathing poorly increase anxiety?
Apart from the obvious benefit of breathing, the process helps to reduce anxiety several ways. Firstly, when anxiety begins to rise, the body naturally shifts to thoracic breathing – this is the type of shallow breathing that is a response to stressful situations, including anxious thoughts.
Most people are usually unaware that thoracic breathing is taking place. The effect of shallow breathing serves to maintain and even increase anxiety. As anxiety and stress increase, the body also tenses up.
This serves to promote shallow breathing, reducing the oxygen levels the brain is looking for, which in turn causes physical stress and increase heart rate. This causes a bit more stress which increases anxiety, and so the vicious cycle continues.
How does breathing correctly reduce anxiety?
Breathing is not a conscious process, it is a reflex which means that it is done subconsciously.
The process of breathing (respiration) is divided into two distinct phases, inspiration (inhalation) and expiration (exhalation). During inspiration, the diaphragm contracts and pulls downward while the muscles between the ribs contract and pull upward. This increases the size of the thoracic cavity and decreases the pressure inside. As a result, air rushes in and fills the lungs.
During expiration, the diaphragm relaxes, and the volume of the thoracic cavity decreases, while the pressure within it increases. As a result, the lungs contract and air is forced out.
The sole purpose of breathing in is to bring oxygen into the body. Oxygen is used by cells in the body as part of the process to burn the fuel in our cells for energy. This energy is used for everything from digestion to moving your muscles and even thinking. The waste product of this process is carbon dioxide, which is then exhaled in the second part of the breathing out process.
When you are not breathing correctly, your body is likely producing more waste product (carbon dioxide) than it can clear out. This causes increased acidity in the body, and acidity is the root cause of so many chronic health issues.
Apart from the serious and chronic diseases that high acidity in the body can cause, you are quite likely to have a sore nick, tight shoulders, poor posture, anxiety, fatigue, poor digestion, bad breath, muscle and joint pain, skin problems….the list is endless.
OK, that sounds bad – what should I do?
By now you should be starting to wonder how you could be breathing better – after all, you’re sitting here reading, processing…breathing. Correct breathing depends on how well you are using your diaphragm – your diaphragm is a small band of muscle.
If you are using your diaphragm correctly, your diaphragm will pull your lungs down causing your lungs and stomach to expand as you breathe in. If you aren’t using your diaphragm very well, you will need to use your shoulders and chest muscles to breathe. This is what is known as shallow breathing. If you watch a small baby breathing whilst they are asleep, you will see how breathing is done correctly.
A better balance between carbon monoxide and oxygen is maintained in your body when you breath correctly. This doesn’t necessarily clear out the backlog of carbon monoxide, but you have stopped the slide towards a more acidic body. This means you will feel calmer, have better digestion, more energy and a clearer mind. Who doesn’t want that?
Forming a regular mindful breathing practice is key.
The key to forming good habits with breathing is to make sure you connect your breathing practice to something you do regularly, so that your breathing practice becomes a habit. Habit forming can take a while and be difficult at the best of times. But you should persist! The benefits of breathing properly are quickly realised though, and if you stop your breathing exercises after having got started, you will soon notice.
The best way to make a habit stick is to connect it with several things you do regularly. Some examples might be in the morning whilst having a cup of tea first thing, or perhaps just after you’ve had a shower. Or maybe when you have dropped the kids at school before leaving the car park, or when you sit down for morning tea or lunch.
There are so many opportunities to tie a habit to, so go ahead and pick some that work for you. I have included a downloadable handout at the end of this blog post which will help you make a habit plan.
I like to do my mindful breathing first thing in the morning when I drink a glass of warm water and contemplate the day ahead. Also when I get a cup of tea mid-morning, and then once I get out of the shower at night. Right away, there are a few instances where I have been able to connect good breathing practices with something I regularly do.
Be sure to pick at least a couple of different things you do so that if you are out of your regular environment your breathing practice does not suffer.
Reduce anxiety with these two simple breathing techniques.
There are two methods in particular that I think are beneficial for anxiety; one to relax, the other for to calm any growing anxiety, or if you can’t get to sleep.
The first method I want to show you is for relaxation, and this is a breathing technique by Dr Weil. He has done a lot of study on breathing and feeling well.
His technique is that you inhale quietly through your nose for the count of 4, hold your breath to the count of 7, then exhale audibly through the mouth for the count of 8. Something important is to remember to place the tip of your tongue on the ridge of flesh behind your top teeth and keep it there throughout the entire exercise.
The next method I want to tell you about is breath counting. I find this style useful when you are becoming anxious or having trouble falling asleep. It is a variation on Zen breath counting, and it is simple.
First, breathe as normal, focus on your breath. Breathe in, breathe out and count ‘one’ as you do. The next time you exhale, count ‘two’. Continue this until you have done 10 breath cycles in total. Repeat the sequence.
You know that you have got a way to go in calming your mind when you find yourself counting out breath number 14. It’s ok if you go past 10, just bring your focus back to your breath and start back at ‘one’ again.
If you do one thing after reading this, make it that you chose just one technique and time you will do it each day. After what you have read, I hope you are convinced that proper breathing technique is super important to not only reduce anxiety, but to avoid any number of serious health concerns into the future.
You now know the consequences of not breathing properly on your long-term health are serious – and might just hold the key to those niggling health issues you’ve had – get started! Breathe freely, friend!