There are many approaches to managing flare ups in anxiety. From creative outlets, to physical activities to connecting to someone supportive there are just as many options for managing anxiety as there are potential triggers for it. Continuing with our Digging Deeper into Anxiety blog series, this week’s blog focuses on one of the most fundamental but underrated elements for triggering AND treating anxiety, breathing.
In the 1950’s a man named Maslow created a visual hierarchy of human needs that is still widely used and depicted today. This 5-tiered triangle illustrates the basic steppingstones of all human needs. Identifying that one level needs to be met before a person can fully commit themselves to addressing the next higher level.
More simply Put: Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs are:
- Basic Body Needs
- Safety Needs
- Social Needs
- Esteem Needs
Not surprisingly the foundation of that triangle has everything to do with our body’s basic self-care. With the #1 item listed being breathing. Our life is sustained by oxygen coming into our system and carbon dioxide leaving it. When we’re stressed, we often throw off the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide within our body and can leave ourselves feeling very jittery, shaky, and off. Which then often triggers and enhances anxiety and panic symptoms. This little play between emotions and physical sensations can start quite an uncomfortable cycle intense anxiety and discomfort.
Going into things a little deeper, our breathing cannot JUST trigger anxiety responses it can ALSO calm them. It can allow us to create an internal sense of calm, balance and peace that can get us through a very difficult moment(s). Being able to slow that fight or flight response (more on that in an upcoming blog) that is kickstarted by the fear of not ‘feeling right’ when your oxygen/CO2 mix isn’t balance can clear your head enough to think through the emotional trigger and find ways to work through that anxiety.
There are two basic types of breathing: chest breathing in belly breathing.
With chest breathing our oxygen tends to come into our system very shallow an exit quickly. This tends to be rapid short breaths (visualize someone hyperventilating) and does not allow the fresh oxygen to fully get into our blood supply to distribute to the rest of our body where it could loosen muscles and clear our thoughts.
Belly breathing involves taking in a deep breath and allowing it to fill and swell your abdomen. You will be able to visually see your belly rise with an inhale and lower with your exhale. When you have inevitably heard somebody tell you to take a deep breath when you’re stressed this is what they meant. And as annoying as it is to hear people tell you that taking deep breathes will help make things better, it does work. No, it doesn’t fix your anxiety trigger or any of the many stressors on your plate. But it does allow you to create enough of a calmed state to sort through the physical and emotional baggage and start sorting through a problem-solving process for those stressors.
Linked to the side in this blog is a brief video going over and practicing a healthy breathing cycle. As important as it is to know why deep breathing helps it is just as important to know the ‘right’ way to actually manage a deep breathe.
But in case you don’t have time or opportunity to watch the video here is the basic rundown of deep breathing:
Inhaling slowly through your nose,
filling your lungs to capacity as your abdomen slowly inflates
holding that oxygen in there for a moment
and then exhaling through your mouth until your lungs are completely deflated and your belly rests back down.
To make sure you’re doing this correctly you can put one hand on your chest in one hand on your stomach when you breath you DON’T want the hand on your chest to rise but you DO want the hand on your belly to. It can also help to do what is called box breathing and count as you go through your breathes; as you breathe in count to the number 4, hold for 2, as you breathe out count again to 4 until your lungs are deflated. Then hold for 2 and repeat the process. I would recommend doing at least 5 cycles through to calm your system and start to calm and manage the anxiety trigger.
It is important to practice this type of calm deep breathing as many of the techniques and tools we will be using during this digging deeper series will incorporate this breathing system and build off it.
Until next time; we wish you calm, peaceful moments amid the chaos that can at times become life. Anxiety may be strong, but SO ARE YOU!
Getting Support For Your Anxiety
Anxiety is not something you have to struggle your way through on your own. Having a supportive outside person to help you sort through what you are experiencing can be a huge asset to your recovery process. At Angelus we have a great group of therapists available to help you through your healing journey. Reach out today to get started and see if one of our therapists is the right fit for you.