Anxiety increases the heart rate, makes breathing more difficult, and causes us to feel on edge. We’ve talked about how our thinking contributes to this in a previous post. One of the things we have to learn to do is relax. Certain ways of breathing help us to do this.
We think about relaxation as something we do on the beach or at a cabin on the lake. But relaxation is something we need to be able to achieve in our day-to-day lives. If we’re on edge, we are prone to panic, lash out, run away, or just become stuck or frozen. None of these are ideal. We need some ways to feel less on-edge all the time. Most of us can’t take a 3-day beach weekend every week!
Certain types of breathing can help us relax can help reduce our overall anxiety. There are a lot of different breathing exercises out there. Most of them are fine. We’re going to talk about a method called coherent breathing. I’ve chosen this breathing technique because it is simple and it can be done almost anywhere. First, let’s talk about what it does.
Briefly, the sympathetic nervous system reacts to stress. It raises the heart rate, increases blood pressure, and gets us ready to fight or flight. To simplify it, think of it as the “stress response system.” The parasympathetic nervous system does the opposite. It slows the heart rate, blood pressure, and calms us down. Think of it as the “relaxation system.”
Coherent breathing can help us relax can help reduce our overall anxiety.
Coherent breathing causes us to go back and forth between these two systems. This allows our bodies to literally train itself to react when necessary, but also to relax when responding isn’t necessary. The problem with anxiety is the stress response system is always ready to react but the relaxation system has a hard time kicking in. Make sense? Good!
As I stated, there are a lot of different breathing techniques that work well. I simply chose this one because it is simple to understand and to practice. This breathing technique slows the breath rate to about 5 breaths per minute. Here are the steps:
- Sit comfortably with your feet on the floor and hands on your knees
- Close your eyes
- Inhale slowly, counting 5 seconds
- Exhale slowly, counting 5 seconds
- Repeat for several minutes
That’s it. Nothing complicated. Often, it is helpful to imagine being in a relaxing place or simply see the seconds counting. If you get distracted, it’s ok. Just refocus on breathing.
You can overcome anxiety. Practicing this breathing exercise several times a day can significantly reduce anxiety as we train our relaxation system to kick in a little faster and more smoothly. Don’t expect this to work all at once. It will take practice over a period of time.
If you’re struggling with anxiety, feel free to contact us. We’d love to help!