Why is diaphragm breathing important?
♦ Our breathing changes when we are feeling anxious or stressed. We tend to take short, quick, shallow breaths, or even hyperventilate. This type of breathing can actually make you feel even more anxious (e.g., due to a racing heart, dizziness, or headaches)!
♦ Diaphragm breathing is a great portable tool that you can use whenever you are feeling anxious. However, it does require some practice. Key point: like other anxiety-management skills, the purpose is not to avoid anxiety at all costs, but just to take the edge off or help you “ride out” the feelings.
HOW TO DO IT
Diaphragm breathing involves taking smooth, slow, and regular breaths.
1. Take a slow breath in through the nose (and mouth if you have to), breathing into your lower abdomen, feeling your ribcage expand in all directions.
2. Once you get a full breath, hold it gently for 1 or 2 seconds.
3. Exhale slowly and completely through the mouth, making sure to empty your lungs completely before taking in your next breath.
♦ Make sure that you aren’t hyperventilating; pause for a few seconds after each breath if you start to feel light-headed
♦ Focus on relaxing the muscles in your neck/throat and pulling the air in from your solar plexus (sternum) area
♦ Relax your chest, drop your shoulders, and let your belly soften like the Buddha
♦ Sometimes it helps to imagine a hand pushing on the middle of your back and you are pushing against it with breath (to help expand and fill the back of the lungs)
♦ Your shoulders and chest area should be fairly relaxed and still. If this is challenging at first, try lying down on the floor with one hand on your chest, and the other hand on your abdomen. Focus on making the hand on your abdomen rise as you fill your lungs with air, expanding your chest (the hand over your chest should not move as much)
♦ Practice this technique once or twice a day at first - you need to be comfortable breathing this way when feeling calm, before you can feel comfortable doing it when anxious.
You will gradually master this skill and feel the benefits! Once you are comfortable with this technique, you can start using it in situations that cause anxiety.