Updated: May 21
How is the way we breathe connected to our Anxiety? Anxiety is very much a physiological response to either real or perceived danger. When our brain senses this real or perceived threat it sends a message to our adrenal glands to produce a hormone called Adrenaline. Adrenaline causes our heart rate to increase, our breathing to become more shallow and rapid, we may begin to perspire, to shake as the adrenaline courses through our blood, and if we have a lot of adrenaline in our system we may feel our vision blurring and our head spins.
Adrenaline thrives on Oxygen. The primary focus of our survival system is to prime our bodies to be ready and geared up for the threat. So Oxygen is taken in, to be made ready to our whole system, to fight, to flight or to freeze. The more Oxygen we have, the more Adrenaline we produce. So the cycle continues on by itself, until either the threat is gone and our brains can acknowledge it's gone, or we intervene through our behaviour to break the Adrenaline cycle.
One of the most effective ways (and I will go through other ways in later blogs) to stop more adrenaline being produced, and to calm or adrenal glands down is to directly intervene in how we are breathing.
Slow. Long. Steady breaths.
We put an emphasis on the exhalation. We breathe out that air. We take out all the extra Oxygen in our blood. We don't need it. We breathe out. Long slow. We count to 10. We breathe in for 4 seconds. We breathe out for 10.
As long as your breathing changes from short, shallow and quick to long, slow and deep, you will break the cycle.
It takes practice. And depending on how panicked you are, it may take 10 to 20 minutes for the entire adrenal system to come to rest.
If we can take up an everyday practice that involves long and slow breathing we can kick our whole nervous system down into a much calmer place. Yoga, Tai Chi, Mindfulness Breathing.
Of course your new activity doesn't have to be one of these. What movement you enjoy works best. Running, walking, the gym. When you take up the activity re-train yourself to breathe long, slow and deep. This will make a great difference to our anxiety.