Breathing Fire by Carmen R. Sonnes
CBT psychologists recommend behavioral tools to manage anxiety, panic, stress, anger, and fear is deep breathing exercises. Many people with anxiety disorders and anger management issues, for example, breathe in a shallow manner, known as "upper chest breathing." This type of shallow breathing is unintentional and largely goes unnoticed until something triggers the anxiety/fear/anger mechanism. At this point, a "tightness" in the chest might be felt. Others describe this as "pressure" or feeling as though a heavy "weight" is on their chest; classic signs that now is the time to engage in some deep breathing exercises.
Begin by lying flat on your back on a firm surface. A padded, carpeted floor is an excellent location.
You may also sit up straight in a chair, if that is more comfortable. If sitting, be sure your lower back is fully supported, your feet are flat on the floor and your knees are level or at a slight decline.
You can also practice this exercise standing upright. All sorts of choices for all sorts of situations you may find yourself in. For example, I like to do deep breathing exercises while standing in long checkout lines. Gives me something to do besides glare at the slow check writers in front of me.
Lower Abdominal Breathing:
Place your hand on your stomach area.
Breathe as you normally would and notice whether your hand and stomach rise and fall, or your chest rises and falls, as you breathe.
When you are breathing properly, your chest will stay still while your stomach will rise slightly as you inhale. When you breathe out, or exhale, your chest will continue to stay still while your stomach lowers slightly.
To learn to breathe correctly, begin by slowly inhaling through your nose on the count of six while gently allowing your stomach to lift or raise your hand.
Hold the breath for a count of four.
Slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of eight, fully exhaling until all air is gone, while gently pushing down on your stomach. Now for a round of comfortable, natural breaths. Focus on the feeling of relief you get during these natural, easy, recovery breaths.
Repeat this cycle of 6-4-8 second breaths, with recovery breaths in between, for a good five minutes.
It is quite normal to feel slightly dizzy or light-headed, especially as a beginner. If the deep breathing causes you to begin panicking, only do it for as long as you are able. Increase the length of time each day until you can do the exercise for at least five minutes twice per day. If you continue to practice breathing this way, you may begin doing it more naturally throughout the day.
An additional benefit will be that once you are familiar with the exercise, you may do it while experiencing anxiety or at the beginning of a panic attack, and you may feel relief. The more you practice the deep breathing throughout the day, the more effective you will be at heading off anxiety and panic symptoms.
Slow, emptying exhales tend to be the most therapeutic for some. Really concentrate on exhaling fully. You might experiment with exhaling to the point of emptying your lungs. You want to feel a slight discomfort and then take a relaxing, relieving, natural inhale. Concentrate on the feeling of relief that you are now able to breathe in a comfortable, natural, unforced way. Alternate several natural breaths in between the deep breathing exercises.
Resist feeling frustrated with yourself or giving up if you are struggling to do this exercise correctly. It takes practice. Give yourself time. Do not give up.
Do not be afraid of the exercise causing panic. Remember: you are in control and can stop at any time. Take it as slowly as needed.
Sandy Andrews, PhD is a Clinical Psychologist / Therapist who provides CBT in Austin, Texas