Breathing is an activity that we do not need to control. We can control our breathing, but we do not need to do so. The action is automatic when we are awake, asleep, or thinking about anything other than breathing. Our breathing rate will also automatically change depending on what we need. If we are walking up a hill and need a lot more oxygen, our breathing will get faster.1 If we are in a high- altitude area, we will notice that we take in more oxygen to enable having enough for normal activities. What is amazing about breathing is that we can change how we feel based on our breathing.2,3 We can even hold our breath until we faint, and then we will automatically begin breathing.
Deep breathing is a tool that we can use to relieve an anxiety attack or simply the feelings of one coming on. Find a comfortable place to sit, in an upright chair, a lounge chair, a beanbag chair or cross-legged on the floor. Make certain that the position of your body feels completely safe. The space must be level and free of distractions. Close your eyes. Make sure that you are feeling physically safe in that space with your eyes closed. Slowly bring in a deep breath through your nose and then out through your slightly opened mouth. Try to count to three with each inhalation and each exhalation. Be sure that your diaphragm feels like it is opening wide and high, as though the air was going down to the bottom of your ribcage, like “swallowing” the air into your stomach.
Do this same movement 5-10 times. Do not rush it! Take the time to count for each breath. Make sure all are very deep. Focus only on your air and count the 1-2-3 in your mind’s eye. Push all other thoughts away. Make a mental note of how much more relaxed you feel when you stop the deep breathing.
2. Meditation and Deep Breathing
Read the entire section above and prepare your seat in the same way. This time, sitting on the floor is best if you are able to cross your legs. If not, use a chair with your feet firmly planted on the floor. Turn the palm up of your left hand and place it in your lap. Cradle the other hand inside the first so that the thumb tips are just barely touching.
Close your eyes and slowly bring in a deep breath through your nose and then out through your slightly opened mouth as you “In – two – three” and afterwards “out – two three twice very deeply. Focus on something that you own (a lovely ceramic bowl) or can touch (your pet’s soft ears) and emotionally dive into a state of gratitude. Push all other thoughts away as you breathe this way 4-6 more times. Make a mental note of how much more relaxed you feel when you stop the deep breathing with thankful meditation.
3. Aromatherapy and Scented Breathing
Lavender helps older women to relax. Vanilla soothes many adult people, sweet smells relax some folks and musk others, especially men. Find an essential oil smell that you find soothing. Put it into a dish that has been warmed in a microwave oven or buy a scented candle that you light and place near you. Lie down on a safe bed or other prone resting place. Place a warmed washcloth over your eyes.
Slowly bring in a deep breath through your nose as you inhale the pleasant smell and then out through your slightly opened mouth as though the smell is taking away any stress. You might also put some of the scent (as an oil) on a safe cloth and bring it near your nose if your sense of smell is poor. Continue this breathing until you feel very rested or even take a nap. You will arise feeling less stress and free of anxiety.
4. Warm Water and Controlled Breathing
Warm water is one way to return to the safety of the womb. Place yourself in a warm bath or hot tub. Add some soft music if the beat is like your breathing. Allow your breath to follow the slow rhythm of the music as you visualize the stress you are feeling as dispersing into the water. Continue to relax, breathe, and visualize until you are completely free of anxiety.
1. Ritz, Thomas; Wilhelm, Frank H.; Meuret, Alicia E.; Gerlach, Alexander L.; Roth, Walton T., 2009. Do blood phobia patients hyperventilate during exposure by breathing faster, deeper, or both? Depression & Anxiety (1091-4269). 2009, Vol. 26 Issue 2, pE60-E67.
2. Deacon, Brett T.; Lickel, James J.; Possis, Elizabeth A.; Abramowitz, Jonathan S.; Mahaffey, Brittain; Wolitzky-Taylor, Kate, 2012. Do Cognitive Reappraisal and Diaphragmatic Breathing Augment Interoceptive Exposure for Anxiety Sensitivity? Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy. Fall2012, Vol. 26 Issue 3, p257-269.
3. Conrad, Ansgar; Müller, Anett; Doberenz, Sigrun; Kim, Sunyoung; Meuret, Alicia E.; Wollburg, Eileen; Roth, Walton T., 2007. Psychophysiological Effects of Breathing Instructions for Stress Management. Applied Psychophysiology & Biofeedback. Jun2007, Vol. 32 Issue 2, p89-98.