Most people never give a second thought to the importance of how they are breathing and the incredible impact that it can have on their mental and physical health. And this is especially true with regards to anxiety and stress.
Why is this so important (you may ask)? It's because the brain gives special attention to the signals it gets from the respiratory system, since breathing can mean the difference between life or death. When you change the way that you breathe, you alter the way that your autonomic nervous system operates. Certain types of breathing (such as rapid breathing) can activate the sympathetic nervous system and put it into the "fight or flight mode", which can bring on the symptoms of a panic attack. The good news is that certain slow breathing techniques can help to bring the adrenaline levels back down to baseline levels and cause the parasympathetic nervous system to "counter balance" the overly excited state. This will slow the heart rate, and tell the brain to relax so it can start to release hormones in their proper proportions.
A breathing technique that can really help to relax you is called the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Using this technique has the added benefit of easing the symptoms of a panic attack. This technique, taught by Harvard trained Dr Andrew Weil, should be done twice per day (or more in the event of a panic attack). The reason that it is so effective is that it mimics the effects of meditation and yoga and the calming effect that they have on the body and mind. Doing this exercise is extremely easy and can be done anywhere at anytime. Just sit upright with your back perfectly straight and do the following:
1. Start by exhaling totally through your mouth. When you do this it should make a "whooshing" sound.
2. Then, while keeping your mouth closed, inhale through your nose (quietly) while counting to 4 in your head.
3. Then hold that breath for 7 seconds.
4. For a count of 8, exhale totally through you mouth (again it should make a whooshing sound)
5. This is considered as one breath. So start the inhaling (step 2) and go through this cycle 3 more times.
The inhaling should always be quiet and the exhaling should make a sound. The most important part is that the exhaling takes twice as long as the inhaling. Focusing on breathing this way can be a distraction from fearful or stressful thoughts. This can allow you to calm down and be able to focus. Plus the extra oxygen can have a very relaxing effect on both the body and mind.