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Anxiety and Breathing

Nov 5, 2007
There are many causes of anxiety. Food additives, sugar, adrenal dysfunction and other internally consumed substances. Situations in life that are threatening or seem so will cause anxiety. The idea you do not have enough time is a huge cause of anxiety.

Taking on too many projects or responsibilities invites anxiety and we too often forget we chose and often can un-choose. Spending too much money, getting into debt and worrying about that will cause anxiety. Eventually a certain level of anxiety becomes a 24/7 occurrence that we sort of get used to. How sad.

Add modern stressful living as well as past traumas resulting in vast numbers of people over reacting and even imagining things that do not really exist as threats or stresses or exist at all.

When the breathing is not allowed to stay in balance every reaction to life becomes distorted or negatively magnified. This breathing based distortion is what we call Unbalanced Dysfunctional Breathing, Unrevealed Dysfunctional Breathing or Unbalanced Deep Breathing.

Another aspect is when your mind interprets something that is negative and your unbalanced breathing over-reacts in an unbalanced way and that makes your nervous system get over-stimulated and anxiety heads towards panic, high blood pressure, migraine, hot flashes, ulcers, constipation, heart attacks or strokes.

What to do?

Generally the first line of defense if to remove a negative stimulus. The caffeine you ingested is driving you up the wall? Stop drinking caffeinated beverages. If there is snake in the area, remove the snake or leave the area. If this is impractical, (your boss is the "snake" or he/she is just so exciting you just cannot sit still), you take life saving prescription drugs that make you nervous, you can try to reduce your anxious reaction(s) by the way you are breathing. You can consciously both rebalance and slow your breathing down and reduce the anxiety level; at will.

This can be quite helpful but is often a temporary approach and your body may need more oxygen in the first place so slowing the breathing down may not be a good idea albeit a momentary quick fix and even life saving. The long term best approach is to manage the immediate anxiety and then change/develop your breathing so that it automatically adjusts and you stay calm and do not get anxious in the first place. "Courage under fire" might be one way of looking at it but it is really more about relaxing, feeling safe and or centered inside due to the way you breathe.

When your breathing over-reacts in an unbalanced way your body often tightens in several areas. You hold your breath or breathe shallowly to try to stay in control which only worsens the situation by creating oxygen deprivation and more tension which heightens the stress response and then the tension sets in to stay. This further restricts respiration and produces shallow, rapid distorted breathing.

Shallow breathing numbs our feelings and traps the anxiety inside, blocking smooth energy flow, which in turn triggers more physiological or psychological arousal, sending us up the anxiety and confusion escalator and then possibly down into depression, malaise and confusion. We see what is often called psychosomatic illness greatly stemming from this.

One of the best ways to handle any episode of emotional stress is simply to feel the feelings but make sure you keep breathing in a certain manner. Breathing naturally and well grounded (though many do not know what that really feels or looks like) allows us to feel our feelings and address the anxiety more rationally.

The entire autonomic nervous system (and through it, our internal organs and glands) is largely driven by our breathing sequencing and balance. By changing our breathing we can influence millions of biochemical reactions in our body, producing more relaxing substances such as endorphins and fewer anxiety-producing ones like adrenaline and higher blood acidity.

Mindfulness of the breath is so effective that it is common to all meditative and prayer traditions. But changing it fast enough so as not to require a long term stay in an institution, ashram or retreat center may be more practical for many.

Slow the breathing down naturally and if it is properly balanced you will feel less fearful of almost everything. Slow it down by holding it back and you may feel a little less anxious initially but if continued set up a breathing pattern disorder aka UDB and may continue to distort your nervous system responses in ways that only time and circumstance will present.

The following breathing exercise is particularly good for reducing anxiety, and lifting depression. It is temporary but it can help a lot and give one hope and direction for greatly improved success.

The Squeeze and Breathe. All rights reserved. Permission to copy granted when source is given as michael grant white.

Firstly understand that the lungs are smaller at the top.

This means that it is pointless to breathe into the high chest because there is very little lung volume compared to the lower lobes.

The mid chest and lower rear lobes are where the major volume is. The back of the trunk from mid back to waist is where the lower lobes most often allow for the most expansion. But tensions in the low back restrict expansion so we must both access and challenge the area in the following way.

For breathing that is calming, centering and energizing all at once.

Standing and knees slightly bent is preferable with tail bone tilted gently forward or supported by a small round pillow as above or a NADA Chair, Sit out near the edge of a fairly hard surfaced chair, stool or arm of a couch with feet flat on the floor, or stand.

Both of these positions need an erect but not stiff posture. Be "tallest" with your chin slightly above the horizon and slightly tucked in. If you stand, bend your knees slightly so as to unlock them.

Let your tongue lightly touch the roof or your mouth and your jaw relax. Relax your belly. Let it hang down. Let go of any fear of having a "pot belly" or not having "washboard abs". .

Place your thumbs over your kidneys (below your back ribs and above your pelvis. Wrap your fingers around your sides towards your belly button as if you were getting a front to back firm grip on your sides. Get a good full fingered grip by squeezing your fingers and thumbs together gently but firmly, then nose breathe a long slow deep 4 second in-breath, breathing into your squeezed fingers forcing them apart with your in-breath, against the tension that the squeezed fingers are constantly making.

In other words, using the force of your breathing-in to widen your fingers and thumbs against their attempt to stay tensely closed.

Then relax your grip and slow down the exhale so it lasts at least 8 counts. Never tighten the belly to extend the exhale. Simply slow the speed of the out-breath. Always keep the belly relaxed.

If you could not last the 4 count inhale or 8 second exhale try repeating it/them with a shorter count until you can achieve the 4 and 8.

1. How did that feel? Relaxing. Energizing? Anxious?

If you felt dizziness, light headedness, confusion or anxious it may have been counting too fast or you did not squeeze in the right place or strongly enough and then breathe into the squeezed thumb and fingers to separate them against their will. Stop and recommence in a minute or two after the dizziness/excessive energy has subsided or integrated within you.

Feel better? Calmer? Energized? Calm and energized at the same time? Anxious? If anxious try to lengthen the exhale count while keeping the inhale count the same or smaller. Example: a 4 count inhale and 10 count exhale or 4 count inhale and 12 count exhale. A 20 count exhale should be eventually attainable but for some it might take weeks or months to develop. Remember to never tighten the belly to make the exhale last longer.

Just let the air out much slower but make sure you do not tighten the belly muscles. You should eventually feel a calming and energizing throughout your entire body.

If that is not the right feel or timing then experiment with the same inhales but longer or shorter exhales until you discover a comfortable one that you can repeat for five to ten minutes preferably every waking hour.

The above is very powerful but still a temporary approach. If it helped you stay calm or energized even just a little bit I urge you to look more deeply into developing optimal breathing.
About the Author
Michael White is a health educator, author, breathing development specialist, public speaker, vocalist, and CEO of Breathing.com and the Optimal Breathing School. He has studied breathing development since 1975 and helped thousands transform their lives through correct breathing and nutrition. Visit Breathing.com
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