Breathing Skills for Generalized Anxiety
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
During an emergency, our breathing rate and pattern change. Instead of breathing slowly from our lower lungs, we begin to breathe rapidly and shallowly from our upper lungs. If during this time we are not physically exerting ourselves, then it can produce a phenomenon called hyperventilation. This in turn can explain many of the uncomfortable symptoms during panic: dizziness, shortness of breath, a lump in the throat, tingling or numbness in the hands or feet, nausea, or confusion.
The good news is that by changing your breathing you can reverse these symptoms.
By shifting your breathing rate and pattern, you can stimulate the body’s parasympathetic response. This is the body’s equally powerful and opposite system to the Emergency Response and is often called the relaxation response. For our purposes I will call it the Calming Response.
The table below lists the physical changes that take place in the Calming Response. As you can see, all of the primary changes of the Emergency Response are reversed in this process. One of the differences in these two physical responses is that of time. The Emergency Response takes place instantly in what is called a mass action: all the changes occur together. Once we flip on that emergency switch, it takes awhile for the body to respond to our calming skills. For this reason it is important for you to know what specific skills will reverse this emergency response and will help calm your body and clear your mind.
The Calming Response
- oxygen consumption decreases
- breathing slows
- heart rate slows
- blood pressure decreases
- muscle tension decreases
- growing sense of ease in body, calmness in mind
You will now be introduced to three breathing skills. In later steps you will learn how to change your fearful thinking and your negative imagery, because each time you frighten yourself with catastrophic thoughts or images, you re-stimulate your body’s emergency response. To begin with, however, you need a solid foundation in proper breathing.
As you apply these skills, keep two concepts in mind.
First, our breathing is dictated in part by our current thoughts, so make sure you also work on changing your negative thoughts, as well as your breathing, during panic.
And second, these skills work to the degree you are willing to concentrate on them. Put most of your effort into not thinking about anything else — not your worried thoughts, not what you will do after you finish the breathing skill, not how well you seem to be at this skill — while you are following the steps of these skills.