I was recently reminded about the connection between anxiety and the breath. In the midst of anxious thoughts, It’s easy to forget that the two can be connected. When you get caught up in those anxious thoughts, the breath is often the first thing to go. If you find yourself in the midst of anxiety and holding your breath, then that’s a clue to begin to retrain the natural reactions that you have. Why? Because holding your breath while you are having anxious thoughts is not going to help those anxious thoughts to go away any faster.
If you want relief from the anxiety, you’re going to need to pay attention to the breaths that you’re taking.
Let’s dig deeper into that connection.
When you look at a list for ways to reduce anxiety, one suggestion that you will frequently see is to take deep breaths. Simple, right? Just stop what you’re doing and take several deep breaths.
I know. I know. It’s not always that simple. Pausing to take deep breaths can be really difficult when the thoughts in your head are spiraling into more and more anxiety.
It’s still a great suggestion!
Deeper breaths will definitely help to calm your body and lesson the anxiety. Why is that? Well, when you take short breaths that don’t fill the lungs up fully, your body begins to get worried about the lack of oxygen entering the body. This sends the signal that something is wrong. You may as well be holding your breath because your body is getting the signal that not enough oxygen is available. Your body reacts by getting anxious about the situation. So, when you take those short breaths, you are actually creating anxiety in your body.
The connection between anxiety and holding your breath can be reversed.
The opposite happens when you take deep breaths. With each deep breath, you’ll send the signal to your body that all is well and there is no need to be anxious. You’ll feel calmer and be able to think more clearly. By taking those deep breaths, you’ll be reversing the anxiety loop that is happening in the body.
Try this exercise.
Take a moment and watch the people around you breathe. Are they taking slow, deep breaths? Or, are they taking faster, more shallow breaths? I believe that what you’ll find is that most people are not breathing fully, and when this is happening then you only fill the upper portion of the lungs when you breathe. This puts you in an almost constant state of anxiety when you habitually breathe this way. It doesn’t have to be that way though.
So, is this you too? Are you breathing more shallowly than is healthy for your body?
Practice a little awareness.
I talk a lot about being aware of your body. So, in this instance, be aware of your breath. Notice how you’re breathing right now. Is the breath shallow and fast or slow and deep? How do you feel as you read this? Are you anxious or relaxed? Notice the relationship between your breath and how you feel.
The simple act of noticing how you’re breathing right now can have powerful shifts for you. Anxiety and holding your breath don’t have to be the normal way for you to breath.
You have a choice. Each time your awareness lets you know that you’re breathing fast and shallow, you have the choice to shift your breath. Simply by slowing it down and taking a deeper breath, the message that is sent to the body will begin to shift.
So, if you’ve just noticed that your breath is fast and shallow, take a few moments to deepen your breath. Try to fill the lungs completely a few times. How do you now feel after those slow deep breaths? Is there a change? If not, try a few more because that extra oxygen is going to shift your body.
Pay special attention to your breath during the holidays.
We’re in the time of year when you might feel an increased sense of anxiety. There can often seem like a never ending list of things to do, presents to buy and parties to attend. You might do all of these things in an effort to create the most amazing experience for those people that are closest to you. Unfortunately trying to create the ‘perfect’ experience leads to impossible expectations that you put on yourself and can dramatically increase your anxiety level.
You’re breath doesn’t have to cause the anxiety though. That’s something that you can shift.
So, as you go through this holiday season, remember this simple trick to reduce your anxiety levels. You may not completely get rid of the anxiety that you feel with the simple act of breathing deeper. However, if you can reduce the symptoms of anxiety with a few deep breaths, then it’s worth a try. You have nothing to lose and a calmer body and mind to gain from this practice.
If you need extra help with your anxiety during the holidays, then let’s chat about how yoga therapy can support you.
You’ve got this! Take a deep breath & we’ll get through this together.
Becky is a Yoga Therapist & has been teaching yoga since 2006. She loves to match people with a yoga practice that helps them to feel better every day & believes that there is a yoga practice for everyone. Click here to sign up for her mailing list & get all of the important news & tips first!