Take a Deep Breath: How Breathing Can Remedy Anxiety

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Have you ever stopped to take a deep breath (or two or three) in the midst of an anxiety-provoking situation? That's a smart move. Breathing is an effective way to tame the symptoms of anxiety.

Anxiety disorders are a common problem for many Americans. Sufferers have overwhelming or persistent worries that interfere in their daily lives. While anxiety and fear are normal responses to stress, people who suffer from anxiety disorders can't turn this stress response off. Anxiety disrupts your breathing and may cause additional symptoms such as dizziness, increased heart rate, muscle tension, and feelings of suffocation.

When we breathe normally, we inhale life-sustaining oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, a biological waste. When we're anxious, we tend to breathe rapidly, disrupting the healthy balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Focusing on our breathing relaxes the body and reduces other physical symptoms of anxiety.

Even if you're taking anti-anxiety medications or undergoing psychotherapy, learning to control your breathing is a great way to proactively manage your anxiety. It's easy to do, it works, and best of all, there are no negative side effects.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing, or stomach breathing, engages the diaphragm, the large muscle below our lungs. To learn diaphragmatic breathing, start by sitting or lying down with one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Breath in slowly, pushing the diaphragm downwards. The hand on your stomach should rise and the hand on your chest should not move. Breathe out slowly, forcing all of the air out of your lungs. With diaphragmatic breathing, you inhale more oxygen and slow the rapid breathing that exacerbates feelings of anxiety.

It takes time to learn a new different way to breathe. Experts recommend practicing for five to 10 minutes three or four times day. As you get the hang of diaphragmatic breathing, you'll begin to notice a reduction in your every day stress levels.

A new study by Southern Methodist University adds to the body of scientific data supporting breathing as a way to manage anxiety. Researchers used a device-CART, or Capnometry-Assisted Respiratory Training-to provide immediate feedback to participants as they breathed. The change in breathing technique reduces carbon dioxide in the body and restores a healthy balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide.

If you suffer from anxiety, give diaphragmatic breathing a try. Once you become comfortable with this new way of breathing, you can employ it whenever you find yourself feeling anxious.

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Anxietypanic.com. "Diaphragmatic breathing." Web.

Helpguide.org. "Social Anxiety Disorder and Social Phobia." Web.

Helpguide.org. "Relaxation Techniques for Stress Relief." Web.

Southern Methodist University. "A new breathing therapy reduces panic and anxiety by reversing hyperventilation." Blog posting. Web. 16 December 2010.

Morgan, Amy J. and Jorm, Anthony F. "Outcomes of Self-help Efforts in Anxiety Disorders." Expert Review of Pharmacoeconomics & Outcomes Research  9(5) (2009): 445-459. Medscape Medical News. Web. 11 October 2009. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/711635