Do breathing exercises help anxiety?
We know breathing exercises work to reduce anxiety.
Like journaling, affirmations, and talking about your feelings, breathing exercises are often useful techniques for helping clients to calm anxiety and prevent panic attacks.
The problem is, often times clients don't use the techniques for a variety of reasons.
Sometimes they don't understand why breathing exercises work.
Sometimes they tried on in the past, but it wasn't the right technique for them.
Sometimes they've have gotten some relief but didn't feel like it went deep enough to keep using the tools.
This guide will explain why breathing techniques work, what are the major types of breathing techniques, and why, in my opinion, hypnosis is the best of all the breathing techniques.
How Your Nervous System Works.
It all starts with your nervous system. There's a special part of the nervous system which has two parts, the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system.
The parasympathetic nervous system's job is to slow you down. This is the part of you that slows your heart rate, helps you digest your food, and helps you relax enough to go to sleep.
The sympathetic nervous system's has the opposite job. It speeds you up. This is what makes your heart rate speed up, makes you breathe faster and harder, and triggers your fight or flight response.
How your nervous system helps you relax.
So how do these two parts of your nervous system relate breathing exercises? When you breathe slowly, especially when you exhale, you trigger the parasympathetic nervous system.
It's like pressing the reset switch on your body.
And when you breath quickly, your body will automatically turn on the sympathetic nervous system. This will cause you to more easily feel irritated or anxious.
Think of it like a light switch. Flick it one way, and you feel calm, and flick it another way and you feel irritable and anxious.
An Overview of Breathing Exercises.
So now you know why breathing exercises work: deep breathing exercises turn on the parasympathetic nervous system, causing us to relax.
So what are the different types of breathing exercises?
Resonance Frequency Breathing.
Resonance frequency breathing is one of the most powerful breathing techniques. It's simple and easy to use.
You find a calm place to sit down where you won't be disturbed and breathe for about 20 minutes.
Each inhalation should last for about 4 seconds and each exhalation should last for about 6 seconds.
While the timing doesn't have to be exact, the most important thing is to keep your exhale longer than you inhale. Remember the exhale is what triggers the parasympathetic nervous system and produces the relaxation response.
The Marine Breathing Technique.
Another common breathing technique is called Marine breathing, because US marines use this to reset stress so they can think clearly.
It's much like Resonance Frequency Breathing but with one key difference, between each inhale and exhale you hold your breath for about a second.
This technique is optimal for when you're on the go and need to reset in the moment.
A lot of meditation focuses on breathing exercises.
For instance in compassion meditations, you might place a hand on your chest, breathe from your diaphragm (belly) instead of your chest, and imagine yourself receiving compassion and care from a lover other person.
Meditation is a great way to not only calm your nervous system, but to also practice relaxation. And paired with something like Yoga, it can be a great way to reconnect to your body.
Mindful breathing or mindfulness.
Some people really benefit from the breathing focus of meditation, however, as meditation often has a religious connection (particularly to Buddhism) some people are turned off by it.
Mindfulness meditation is a great alternative for them.
In mindfulness, which you can do sitting or lying down, you just notice your breathing, and whenever your mind wanders, you gently return your mind to your breathing.
Breathing Exercises for anxiety: Which work best?
So how do you know which one will work best for you?
First, check with your doctor or therapist. While these exercises generally have low down side and rarely cause negative effects, if you're struggling with anxiety, depression, or other medical illnesses it's always best to run new treatments past your doctor.
That being said, here are a few considerations.
If you're more into Buddhism, yoga, and eastern thinking, then start with meditation.
If you're not a fan of religion, start with mindful breathing.
If you're on the go and only have a few moments to reset start with marine breathing.
And if you like a more bare bones approach (like I do) then start with resonance frequency breathing.
Why hypnosis is the best deep breathing exercise.
So how does hypnosis fit into this?
People typically think of hypnosis as a form of mind control. They see someone on stage clucking like a chicken and think that person is controlled by the hypnosis.
What they forget is that that's just a magic show.
In real therapy hypnosis it's much less extreme.
In fact, often times hypnosis in therapy starts with a therapist saying something like, "okay, take a deep breath, close your eyes and slowly relax. Moving more and more inside."
Did you catch that?
In hypnosis you're using deep breathing/ belly breathing, to help the person calm their mind and their body.
Once that happens, once the client is in a calm state of mind where they feel relaxed, then you begin to work with their unconscious mind to help them resolve the underlying issue.
And that's why hypnosis is often a good fit for working through anxiety.
Think about it, if you were just asked to talk about a trauma you've suffered, it would be really emotional. Maybe you'd cry. Maybe you'd feel sick. Maybe you'd even have a panic attack just trying to talk about the event.
But when you use hypnosis you help the person feel calm and safe first, which makes talking about it much easier.
Imaging being able to talk about the things which bother you from a place of relaxation and comfort?
Finally, sometimes people don't know what's bothering them. They have a vague sense that something is wrong, but can't quite name what it is.
That's a sign that the issue is an unconscious issue.
And that's why hypnosis is often a great treatment.
But there's another reason hypnosis is often a great treatment for anxiety.
You don't have to be alone anymore.
Often at the core of anxiety is a deep sense of loneliness and intense self criticism.
Hypnosis actively works against this. In hypnosis you're working with a caring therapist.
Instead of being alone, your with someone else. Instead of being criticized, your on the other end of care.
A note from me, Jordan (the counselor).
So I want to end with this.
First, none of this is medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. I don't know your satiation.
But, I'm betting, if you've read this, then you're in pain.
So please, if your struggling, get help.
You don't have to go through it alone anymore.
Hypnosis uses deep breathing to calm the body.
Hypnosis helps people talk about unconscious issues.
Deep breathing + hypnosis allows you to talk about unconscious and uncomfortable issues in a comfortable way.
Hypnosis works against the feelings of criticism and loneliness.
Jordan Harris, Ph.D, LMFT-s, LPC-s holds a masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from Harding University. He then went on to the University of Louisiana Monroe to complete his doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy, while also holding the prestigious AAMFT Minority Fellowship. In addition to working with children, elderly, and addictions, Dr. Harris was also selected as lead author of Deliberate Practice in Multicultural Therapy, a forth coming text book on best practices to teach multicultural competency to therapists.
Outside of practice Dr. Harris is a loving husband and son, and dad to three boys.