When you’re in the throes of severe anxiety, it feels like you’re trapped inside your own brain: your thoughts race, your heart beats a mile a minute, you get nauseated, and it’s hard to get a grip on reality. And while a dose of CBD oil or, in severe situations, an anti-anxiety prescription can help ease symptoms of anxiety, focusing on mindfulness and breathing can also help calm you down.
We spoke to two experts who detail different breathing techniques that can help ease your anxiety, especially if you catch yourself in the early stages before your symptoms get severe. It’s important to note that these techniques aren’t a cure-all for anxiety and may not relieve your symptoms immediately; however, when you feel a bout of anxiety come on, they could be beneficial.
If you’re prone to frequent bouts of anxiety, visit your doctor or a mental healthcare provider (such as a psychiatrist or psychologist) who can diagnose you and help with your symptoms. You can also call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP.
Deep Belly Breathing
“When we get anxious or have a panic attack, our bodies tense up and we engage in shallow breathing,” John Hamilton, LMFT, LADC, chief clinical outreach officer at Mountainside Treatment Center, told POPSUGAR. To combat this, he recommends focusing on diaphragmatic, or deep belly, breathing. This is a conscious form of breathing where you focus on your belly expanding in and out with each breath instead of your chest moving up and down. Aim to do 10 long breaths: inhale deeply through your nose until you feel your belly extend and then slowly out of your mouth.
“This breathing technique gets more oxygen to your brain, which in turn causes your brain to release endorphins, known as a happiness hormone,” John said. It helps your body relax and also distracts your mind, which can help tame your anxiety.
“Anything that helps ground you in the present can disrupt the worrisome thoughts that often accompany a bout of anxiety,” he added. “You can also acknowledge that you’re experiencing anxiety in this moment but that it will pass. Breathe deep, feel your body calming down, and stay in the present!” This technique is ideal for when you feel your anxiety bubbling up.
If you’re already caught in a bout of anxiety, Pedram Shojai, doctor of oriental medicine and author of The Urban Monk, recommends taking a long breath out through your mouth. “This will help blow off some steam and cool the system,” he said. Once you start to feel calmer, you can go back to breathing out of your nose.
In addition to deep belly breathing, Pedram said adding an ear massage to this diaphragmatic breathing is a helpful technique.
“Gently massage and tug on the ears as you breathe deeply down to your lower abdomen,” he explained. “Start from the top of the helix and work your way down to the lobes — work both ears and pay particular attention to areas that are sore or painful. There are some powerful pressure points on the ears, and pressing them while doing your deep breaths is very effective.”