Updated: Nov 19, 2018
When you are stressed or anxious you breathe faster. We usually breathe 6-8 times a minute but this can double if you are stressed. This can lead to an imbalance of Co2 and oxygen in your system which can lead to dizziness, light-headedness, chest tightness and pain, tingling and hot and cold flushes.
Learning to control your breathing when you are in the midst of a panic attack or feeling deeply anxious can be difficult. You might be more worried about having a complete melt-down in public. So it's good to practise at home and get used to how to control your breath so it become habitual and easy. This can be an enjoyable thing to do, rather like a meditation.
Slow breathing does work wonders. When you are in fight or flight your body thinks you are under attack, even if there is nothing to perhaps worry about other than the 'idea' of having a panic attack. You might be stuck in an anxiety loop. Slowing the breath is not just about the level of CO2 in your system it's also about switching your nervous system into relaxation or parasympathetic mode. Someone who has practiced breathing has wired into their system an automatic relaxation response, and just one conscious breath can immediately begin to calm them. Inhale by relaxing your belly, and soften your muscles as you inhale. Then as you exhale, become still as you widen your peripheral vision – take in more of the room ¾ and rest in a more wide-open awareness. At this point, your vagus nerve will be sending you messages that the world is a safe place and it will be easier to control the anxiety.
My friend Erin Lewis wrote the book 'The Love Revolution'. In it she talks about the Switch Breath and provides an exercise in this. I have cut and pasted this chapter for you:
Breath is the elixir of life. If we didn’t breathe, we wouldn’t live. It’s that simple. We are declared dead once we stop breathing. But most of us are shallow breathers and therefore only half full of life force. We breathe lightly or even hold our breath when we are busy, anxious or stressed, depriving our systems of oxygen, which causes inflammation in the body. This shallow chest breathing triggers our stress response, and the release of stress chemicals, which causes us to feel anxious and triggers shallow chest breathing. It is a loop in which we can get caught.
Belly breath switches us to relaxation and restores our chemical balance. Being aware of when we feel stressed is empowering. It is the key to switching from stressed to blessed. Without this awareness, our stress responses run us, and we lose control of our emotions, our thoughts, and our bodies. Breathing deeply into our belly, connects us to ourselves instantly. We stand taller and more relaxed when we breathe deeply. We expand and open.
Check your breath now. Is it stressed or relaxed, fast or slow, shallow or deep, irregular or regular, forced or smooth? By feeling into the body, you are becoming present to yourself and to what you are vibrating out to others. Are you stressed or relaxed? Are you vibrating fear or love? Breath is the indicator of how energetic we are at each given moment. Stressed breathing restricts our energy flow, and relaxed breathing increases it.
Now take some breaths into your belly. When you ‘belly breathe’ your focus shifts from your mental space into your body space, as you sink out of the external and relax into the internal you. Deep abdominal breathing is the first step in self-healing, the first step in self-connection.
When your awareness is in your belly, you can access your emotions, through your physical body as gut reactions and gut instincts. It is so important to utilize this inner wisdom as the mind may be telling us one thing, but the belly may be telling us something else, and that can only cause our feelings of separation, which is stressful.
Become aware of your body during your day and notice when something makes your body tense. This is a powerful moment, a chance to step out of a contracted closed state and into an open receiving state. We have to be open to receive opportunities. When we are ‘contracted’ into a ‘safe’ space, we will never realize our dreams and our potential. It takes bravery to step out of our comfort zone and into the unknown, but that is where our future expansion lies.
There is a lot of information in these pages, designed to bring up and release fear in the face of love. So, as previously indicated, I would encourage you to practice a chapter per week, adding on to and lengthening your meditation as you go through the book. There is always a space at the end of each session for you to surrender to the experience before you continue. Space to just rest and be.
First I want to introduce you to the Switch Breath, which is my favorite trick. It is a short and powerful practice for whenever you find yourself feeling negative or stressed. By practicing the Switch Breath, you will slow your breath, relax your body, calm your mind, and open your heart. This breath throws a switch in the brain, to change from pumping toxic chemicals to tonic chemicals. It is like putting yourself in a love bubble, no matter what is going on around you.
This breathing routine became one of my favorite techniques as I learned and studied Yoga. I gave it the name Switch Breath, and I use this with my therapy clients as well as during Yoga classes. It is an empowering little practice, which takes all of 64 seconds, just over a minute of your time. It can be practiced anywhere by anyone and can be done in public, quickly and quietly.
Play with it and practice the Switch Breath often during your day. No one will know what you are up to, and if they are watching, they will see someone who looks like they are daydreaming. You aren’t; you are inwardly focused. Practice it until it is an automatic response to negative energy. Practice it so you can switch your body instantly from stress to bless. Practice it to relax and surrender for a moment.
This week’s practice is the “I love myself!” affirmation, and the Switch Breath.
If you get nothing else from this book, get this…
Find a comfortable seat, on a cushion on the floor, or in a comfortable chair, or even sitting up in bed. Keep your eyes open and softly focus on nothing in particular, like the floor, your hands in your lap or the horizon. Settle into that daydreaming feeling. Become aware of the space you are in by using your peripheral vision, and then become aware of the space you fill, in the space, you are in.
Now focus on your breath. I want you to inhale through the nose to a count of four, hold the full lung for a count of four, exhale through the mouth for a count of four, and hold empty lungs for a count of four. Repeat four times.
Count slowly and steadily, but please do not force the breath or the hold. Find a rhythm that is right for you. As you practice this, your counts will get slower. You are switching off the stress chemicals pumping from the brain, and switching on restorative chemicals. Stressed to blessed!
In for four.
Hold for four.
Out for four.
Hold for four.
Repeat for four.
Allow your breath to settle back to where it feels natural. Use your peripheral vision to acknowledge the space around you, and to acknowledge your place in the space. Feel the restorative, tonic chemicals flooding through your body, bringing relaxation. Feel the relaxation. Notice your body responding to the relaxation chemicals that are starting to flow with this breathing exercise.
The Switch Breath acts like a circuit breaker for the looping, busy energy of the mind and allows you to settle deeply physically. It is also your first meditation practice. Practice this seated, practice this standing, and practice this when you go to bed. Practice this throughout your day, so it becomes second nature. Make the Switch Breath a habit.
This habit will serve you well on the Love Revolution.
When you are ready, move onto the next chapter.
Here is a link to the book on Amazon:
Hypnotherapy for anxiety and stress can work wonders in helping to relax a system that is in a fight or flight cycle. It will work with your unconscious to bring about an awareness and change. I will also help you some take home techniques.