Anxiety is a debilitating disorder. It varies in its intensity from person to person. Anxiety will also be triggered in different ways for different people. It can cause a loss of appetite, tension in the muscles, headaches, and problems sleeping. Anxiety can bring on panic attacks which are terrifying. It can cause you to feel more pressure to find relaxation in your life. The stress you experience chronically can also turn into depression.
Why It’s Important to be Free From Anxiety
The thing is, anxiety does things to your body and your mind. When you’re in a constant state of anxiety, you cause cortisol levels to rise in the body. These are chemicals released to give your body the ability to respond to danger. This was a necessary response that worked well when we used to have to strive for survival. We now use that system (flight/fight response system in the CNS) for trivial matters. They don’t feel trivial to us. The things that trigger anxiety in each person feels legitimate and overwhelmingly hard to manage. The levels of cortisol in the body can become too much and it can begin to damage systems. It can cause inflammation in the body and other discomforts may arise. You will feel this constant state of anxiety even when you’re in the midst of resting.
How Breathing Helps with Anxiety
The breath does a lot of amazing things for you. It’s why we’re alive at all. It’s what gives you energy. It’s automatic for us to breathe so we take it for granted. Many times, you don’t realize that you might not be breathing deeply enough. The more fresh oxygen you bring into your body, the more you dispel carbon dioxide. It’s an important aspect of living.
Practicing your breath daily can help you with whatever emotional struggles and worries you have. Taking time out for yourself and breathing through discomfort can be deeply relaxing. When you’ve built up a chronic feeling of anxiety, you can work to build relaxation strategies through the breath. Breathing deeply has shown to be a highly effective way of relaxing the central nervous system. Cortisol levels lower. It also puts you in the headspace of being mindful.
When you’re focusing on how to breathe in certain ways, you stop thinking about your worries. As you breathe, you can focus breathing into parts of you that are tense. This is good practice alongside the actual breath that helps soothe the nervous system.
Here are some of the most soothing ways of breathing that have been shown to help with anxiety.
1. Ujjayi breath
This breath is often used during a yoga practice which is another helpful practice you can use against anxiety. There is an even deep inhale and exhale you’ll do as you count to four. It helps to make you feel more grounded.
How to do it:
- Start with an inhale. You’ll want to slightly restrict the back of your throat. It should sound like the ocean. Inhale to a count of 4.
- As you exhale, you want to keep your throat restricted. Count to 4.
- Repeat this as many times as you want to give you a sense of relaxation. Ensure your breathing is slow and steady. Focus on the restriction of the back of the throat. If the ocean sounds cease, it’s likely you’re not focusing on what you’re doing. This is a good gauge to help you pay attention and sit in your present moment.
2. Alternate Nostril Breathing
A lot of people will experience their anxiety at night. Sleepless nights due to ruminating thoughts are common. It’s additionally a problem for someone with anxiety who is worried that they won’t sleep. This actually causes them to not be able to fall asleep. A beautifully relaxing breathing exercise is alternating nostril breathing.
How to do it:
Each nostril stands for something. Like yin and yang, the nostrils are opposed but working together. If you want to get yourself relaxed for sleep:
- Place your thumb on the right nostril and breathe in through the left nostril.
The left nostril is connected to your parasympathetic nervous system. It calms the body and mind when you trigger this part of the central nervous system.
If you need to relax and rejuvenate in the middle of the workday, you can alternate the nostril breathing. This creates a balance in the body so you are less inclined to get stressed out over things.
How to do it:
- Cover your right nostril and breathe in through your left nostril. Exhale and inhale. Then cover the left nostril and exhale/inhale.
If you do this around 10 times, you should notice that you feel more centered and relaxed.
3. Breath retention
You may notice that holding your breath and then exhaling with a lot of vigor is helpful in relaxing you. That’s because it is. When you hold your breath, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system. When you do this, it releases GABA chemicals. These chemicals are designed to help you feel calm and relaxed. The body has the ability to relax you but you have to prompt it to do so. There are a lot of ways you can choose to hold your breath.
Beginners can start by doing this:
- Breathe in slowly and deeply, counting to four.
- Exhale a little bit of that air out but hold the rest of the breath in for four seconds.
- Exhale more so that lungs are half-full. Hold for four seconds.
- Exhale down to three-quarters of air in your lungs. Hold for another four seconds and then finally exhale whatever air is left in the lungs.
The more you do this, the longer you’ll be able to hold breath in. You don’t want to push yourself too far with this exercise. No need to gasp for air. You can build up to inhaling to a count of eight at some point. Whatever feels comfortable for you. This is an excellent exercise to do while you’re in the midst of an anxious episode.
The next time you do feel anxious, you should have the necessary tips to help calm your central nervous system down. When you’re feeling anxious, use this breathing technique to relax you immediately. Deep breathing and focused breathing has been shown to be an effective tool to relax the body at a cellular level. It also prevents your brain from thinking about the things that are causing stress in the first place. This has been seen as an effective stress and anxiety management technique. You can fight against anxiety as it sets in as well as reduce the physical manifestations that chronic anxiety causes.
About the Author
Meera Watts is a yoga teacher, entrepreneur, and mom. Her writing on yoga and holistic health has appeared in Elephant Journal, CureJoy, FunTimesGuide, OMtimes, and others. She’s also the founder and owner of SiddhiYoga.com, a yoga teacher training school based in Singapore. Siddhi Yoga runs intensive, residential training in India (Rishikesh, and Dharamshala), Indonesia (Bali).