You have heard it a million times when you are feeling anxious. "Focus on taking some deep breaths." It sounds so basic, so the question is, does it really work? In this article, we will review what affect deep breathing has on anxiety and if it really works.
Breathing is something that we rarely think about but just happens. On average, most people take between 17,280 and 23,040. That is a lot of breaths that happen without us paying attention! How could something that happens so often and automatically help our anxiety?
Not all breathing is created equal!
When we are stressed or anxious, our breathing becomes shallow and irregular. Our breath during these times also becomes more focused in our chest rather than our stomachs and the chest cavity can only expand so far. What our bodies and minds really need during times of anxiety and stress is deep breathing (or diaphragmatic breathing). This type of breathing moves more air flow into the body and actually helps calm nerves.
How does deep breathing work?
The key to understanding how deep breathing works lies in the nervous system. Let's take a quick anatomy tour. Your autonomic nervous system (which controls involuntary actions like your heart rate and digestion) is made up of two parts. The first part is the sympathetic nervous system, this system controls your fight or flight response (hello anxiety!). The second part is the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for your rest and relax response. These two systems cannot be activated at the same time meaning that if your fight or flight response is lighting up like a Christmas tree your rest and relax response is no where to be found.
Breathing deeply delivers more carbon dioxide to your blood which calms parts of the brain that handle your anxiety response such as the amygdala.
So it turns out that not all breathing works to calm your anxiety, only deep breathing can calm you down. Breathe in... Breathe out...
If you need help with your anxiety and would like to explore counseling, please call us at 512-676-5813 for a free therapy phone consultation today to see if we might be a fit.