From time to time, anxiety and stress can build up over the years and cause an anxiety attack. Or it can be caused by one very stressful event like planning for a wedding or the death of a loved one. In order to understand how to calm an anxiety attack, we must try our hardest to control our breathing pattern.
Learn How To Calm An Anxiety Attack With Deep Breathing
It’s important to read this before you experience a panic attack simply because we have less control of our senses during that time. In the event of a panic attack, we begin to breathe rapidly and shallowly from our upper lungs. Some begin to face physical exertion and can produce a phenomenon called “hyperventilation.” This in turn can explain many of the uncomfortable symptoms during an anxiety attack such as:
- a lump in the throat
- tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
- shortness of breath
- sweating under the arms or sweaty palms
The good news is that by changing your breathing you can reverse these symptoms by breathing slowly from our lower lungs. This is one of the easiest patterns to shift to as opposed to breathing from the upper lungs. Next, you can stimulate your body’s anti-emergency and calming down response which is called the body’s parasympathetic response or the relaxation response.
How to calm an anxiety attack with breathing techniques:
One of the reasons for anxiety attacks is fearful thoughts and negative imagery in your mind. Frightening yourself with catastrophic thoughts or images leads to re-stimulate your body’s emergency response. Therefore, you need a solid foundation in proper breathing skills.
People who are anxious tend to breathe in their upper lungs (upper chest) with shallow, rapid breaths. Breathing this way is a negative contribution to hyperventilation: shallow, upper lung breathing. If you feel a panic or anxiety attack building up you must become aware of your breathing and quickly change the pattern. To do this, we have introduced three breathing skills that start with inhaling into your lower lungs.
Breathe with your diaphragm for abdominal breathing:
Below the lungs is a sheetlike muscle, the diaphragm, which separates the chest from the abdomen. When you fill your lower lungs with air, the lungs push down on the diaphragm and cause your abdominal region to protrude outwards. Your stomach looks as though it is expanding and contracting with each diaphragmatic breath. This helps with a deeper, slower breath.
The first breathing skill is called Natural Breathing which utilizes abdominal breathing.
In fact, this is a good way to breathe where you practice breathing this way all day long, since it provides for sufficient oxygen intake and controls the exhalation of carbon dioxide.
- Gently and slowly inhale a normal amount of air through your nose to fill up your lower lungs.
- Your stomach will expand up while your upper chest remains still.
- Then exhale easily.
- You might first try it with one hand on your stomach and one on your chest.
- Continue this gentle breathing pattern with a calm attitude, concentrating on filling only the lower lungs.
This breathing pattern is the opposite of that which comes automatically during an anxiety attack. Instead of breathing rapidly and shallowly into the upper lungs, which expands the chest, you breathe gently into the lower lungs, which instead expands the abdomen.
Breathe with calming breath:
- Inhale with a long, slow breath in through your nose, first filling your lower lungs, then your upper lungs.
- Hold your breath in your lungs to the count of “three.”
- Exhale slowly through pursed lips, at the same time you relax the muscles in your face, jaw, shoulders, and stomach. Feel the weight and muscles unburdening.
Practice this second breathing technique at least ten times a day for several weeks. It’s important to utilize it during times of transition, between projects or whenever you want to let go of tension and begin to experience a sense of calmness. This will help you become familiar and comfortable with the process. And use it any time you begin to feel anxiety or panic building up.
When you need a tool to help you calm down during panic, practicing these exercises will help you become more familiar and comfortable with the process.
Breathe with a calming counts:
The third technique is called Calming Counts. It has two benefits over Calming Breath. First, it takes longer to complete: about 90 seconds instead of 30 seconds. You will be spending that time concentrating on a specific task instead of paying so much attention to your worrying thoughts. If you can let time pass without such intense focus on your fearful thoughts, you will have a better chance at controlling those thoughts.
Calming Counts, like the first technique of Natural Breathing and the second technique of Calming Breath, helps access the body’s relaxation response. That means you will be giving yourself 90 seconds to cool your body out and quiet your thoughts. Then, after that time has passed, you will be less anxious than you were.
Here’s how to follow the breathing:
- Sit down on your bed or chair comfortably.
- Take a long, deep breath and exhale slowly while saying the word “relax” in your mind softly out loud.
- Close your eyes.
- Let yourself take ten natural, easy breaths. Count down with each exhale, starting with “ten.”
- This time, while you are breathing comfortably, become aware of any tensions, perhaps in your jaw or forehead or stomach.
- Visualize those tensions loosening.
- When you reach “one,” open your eyes again.
In conclusion, as you apply these skills, keep two things 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 a panic.
And second, these skills work to the degree you are willing to concentrate on them. Put most of your effort into not breathing and not getting distracted– don’t think of your worried thoughts, or what you will do after you finish the breathing skill, or how well you seem to be at performing this skill — be in the present moment while following the steps of these skills.