Breathing Techniques For Anxiety

I want to show you some breathing techniques for anxiety. Anxiety often results in breathing which is too fast and shallow, coming from the chest instead of the abdomen. This bad breathing tends to be part of a vicious circle that leads to more anxiety and panic attacks.

It is important to get into the habit of good breathing and know some breathing techniques for anxiety attacks that you can use when you are feeling anxious or stressed.

Muscle Tension and Posture

One cause of bad breathing is having a hunched, tight posture that keeps the upper-body tense. So when practising breathing techniques or when suffering anxiety it is important to start by relaxing the upper-body as much as possible. This is not as hard as it sounds. Just drop the shoulders a little and allow your jaw to hang. Close your eyes if possible and imagine all the muscles in your face and neck, and on your scalp, relaxing down, as if under gravity. See it in your mind’s eye.

Breathing Technique (1) – 10 minutes

Sit or lie comfortably. Relax as above. Bring your attention to your breathing and place one hand on your navel.

Breath in slowly through your nose to the count of three and feel your stomach move out slightly, as the air goes all the way down into your abdomen.

Breath out to a count of four through your nose. Don’t try and rush the breath, just let it leave. Everything should be slow and relaxed and natural.

Don’t make a conscious effort to breath in again. Your body will automatically start to breath in when it’s ready. Don’t rush it.

Continue this seven second breathing cycle for ten minutes or whatever feels comfortable. If it feels uncomfortable then stop at once.

Try and do this every day. But also take a few of these seven second breaths throughout the day, just a few cycles, and then forget your breathing and got on with whatever you were doing. This way you will start to form good breathing habits.

Breathing Technique (2) – as long as you want.

Relax physically as much as possible, as described above. Don’t worry if you are still feeling tense.

Take a slow breath through your nose down into your stomach, but as you breathe concentrate on the tips of your fingers and your toes. Feel as if you are breathing right into the extremities of your body.

Now imagine that the breath is actually entering your body through the souls of your feet and your fingertips. It’s not as crazy as it sounds and is incredibly relaxing.

Just keep your breaths slow and regular and allow your body to draw an in-breath when it’s ready. Don’t make the breaths so deep, slow and regular is fine.

Always stop breathing technique exercises if you feel discomfort. Also, you might want to build up the amount of time you spend doing these exercises, just start with what you can cope with, and what makes you feel good.

I recommend reading the seminal work on the subject:Hyperventilation Syndrome: Breathing Pattern Disorders and How to Overcome Them USA version Hyperventilation Syndrome: Breathing Pattern Disorder UK / Europe version and Self-Help for Hyperventilation Syndrome: Recognizing and Correcting Your Breathing Pattern Disorder USA version. The author of these books, Dinah Bradley, is a worldwide authority on Chronic Hyperventilation Syndrome.

Chronic Hyperventilation Syndrome and Anxiety

Chronic Hyperventilation Syndrome (also called HVS) is a common cause of anxiety. The relationship between anxiety and breathing is complicated. When we feel anxious, our breathing tends to increase and become shallow, from the chest. If we live our lives in a slight state of anxiety and habitually breathe from the chest then our oxygen and carbon dioxide levels get out of balance. This habit of bad breathing is called Chronic Hyperventilation Syndrome.

Chronic Hyperventilation Syndrome has a long list of nasty symptoms but few people experience them all. In the emotional/mental health arena the most common symptoms are anxiety, panic attacks, fearfulness and phobias, depression and low mood, chronic fatigue and low sex drive or impotence.

Many more Chronic Hyperventilation symptoms are also linked to anxiety, such as IBS and migraines.

The chest tightness and difficulty breathing that often accompanies anxiety and panic attacks are signs of hyperventilation. When we over-breathe we tend to gasp for breath and then feel like we can’t breathe and so try to breathe more. This vicious circle needs to be broken.

The best way to overcome Chronic Hyperventilation Syndrome is to go through a process of breath retraining. To do that, I recommend reading the seminal work on the subject:Hyperventilation Syndrome: Breathing Pattern Disorders and How to Overcome Them USA version Hyperventilation Syndrome: Breathing Pattern Disorder UK / Europe version and  Self-Help for Hyperventilation Syndrome: Recognizing and Correcting Your Breathing Pattern Disorder USA version. The author of these books, Dinah Bradley, is a worldwide authority on Chronic Hyperventilation Syndrome.

I have added a post on special breathing techniques for anxiety that you might well find useful. Also this post is dedicated to Anxiety Symptoms: Breathing.

Some doctors don’t really accept the existence of Chronic Hyperventilation Syndrome, but many people have found that changing their breathing habits make a huge difference to their lives, and their anxiety.

Dizziness Vertigo Anxiety

A while back I blogged about the links between anxiety and dizziness and how more often than not the two seem to go together: people experiencing dizziness as part of an anxiety attack or a panic attack.

Today I want to look at dizziness and vertigo as potential causes of anxiety and panic disorder – things like agoraphobia. It has often been said that stress and anxiety can bring on what is often referred to as giddiness, dizziness, light-headedness and vertigo. The reason being that blood is diverted to the muscles, the oxygen balance in the blood changes. This is perhaps true however it doesn’t tell the whole story.

The fight or flight response is meant to save us, but why did we evolve to disable our balance mechanism when poise and stability is needed most, when we are in danger? That begs a question along the lines of the chicken and the egg: what comes first dizziness or anxiety/panic?

For sure anxiety or a big shock can bring on balance problems like vertigo, often very short sharp bouts. However I think, and there is a certain amount of scientific evidence to back this up, that there are a lot of people with panic disorder who actually have an underlying balance problem.

If you into a supermarket and feel funny, maybe get derealization or feel dizzy or lightheaded the doctor will no doubt send you to a psychologist that will tell you that your subconscious doesn’t like being out of control and in a supermarket there is no easy way of escape. Maybe this is rubbish. Maybe the lighting and long aisles of a supermarket make it such a strange environment that the signal from ear and eye get somewhat out of sync in people with a slightly defective vestibular system. Maybe that is what causes the panic like symptoms and leads for the desire for an easy escape route.

If you think about it, the agoraphobics’ worst nightmares are all places that tend to be unnatural and odd and somewhat disorientating: supermarkets, shopping malls, motorways and highways: all places that could cause strange feelings in a person with a vestibular balance problems.

Also read Does Anxiety Cause Dizziness?

This is potentially important because in such cases your psychologist or charlatan hypnoanalyst will be telling you your neighbor sexually abused you. In fact there are types of vestibular rehabilitation and other physio techniques, as well as drugs, that might well help.

If your anxiety seems heavily related to dizziness or vertigo, or you experience balance problems elsewhere in life it might well be worth looking into.

Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

Physical symptoms of anxiety can be mild or severe and for some people are worse than the mental symptoms. The physical symptom which worries people most is a racing heart or palpitations. Often with anxiety the heart can race to similar pulse rates as if you were running, and for many people this is the beginning of a panic attack.

As anyone who works in an Emergency Room or an Accident and Emergency department will tell you, it is very common for people to be admitted who are convinced they are having a heart attack. In fact this racing heart is just the bodies way of preparing for danger, the fight or flight response. Like all physical  symptoms of anxiety, it is harmless.

The second most common symptom of anxiety is often described as tightness in the chest. This tends to be a combination of two things: a slight narrowing of the airway caused by the increased blood flow through the veins in the neck and hyperventilation. The combined effect is a feeling that we can’t breath, but this is just a feeling. In fact our breathing is working fine, again the fight or flight response is preparing us for action. The problem is that as we feel we can’t breath so we try to breath more and end up gasping for breaths we don’t need, when in fact we want to be slowing down our breathing, and taking calming belly breaths instead of fast shallow chest breaths.

Other physical symptoms of anxiety include tingling in the limbs, which is caused by blood being diverted to the core of the body,  and a feeling of weakness which comes about for the same reason.

How do I stop the physical symptoms of anxiety?

The best way to stop anxiety symptoms is to start off the Parasympathetic Relaxation Response. This natural nervous system response to the fight or flight response is designed to calm us down after the danger has passed. As there is no real danger from an anxiety attack or a panic attack we can calm ourselves down immediately quite safely.

How do we set the relaxation response in motion? Well, there are several ways. Meditation is one and I recommend Mindfulness Meditation, which will also help you become aware of your breathing and recognize when you are hyperventilating unnecessarily. Learning to meditate takes time and commitment but will be worth it.

In the meantime, you can elicit the relaxation response by re-breathing carbon dioxide by breathing into a paper bag, or my concentrating on things at the periphery of your vision.

Remember though one important thing. the physical symptoms of anxiety are harmless!

Mental health drugs overused


This article seems to confirm what a lot of us already know. That doctors in the westernised world are encouraged to overprescribe drugs to patients who actually would do much better with other forms of treatment. Yes drugs are cheap, but they do not get to the heart of the problem, even if they are successful often this is just a crutch.

Although longer term, more labour intensive treatments seem to be more expensive in fact they are not. If you look at the longterm benefits to the whole economy of having a workforce in sound mental health you will find that it is an investment to take mental healthcate seriously.

So let’s see better strategies for mental health, depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue and panic attacks.

Here’s the article:

Up to one in three mental health patients are being over-prescribed drugs, says the Healthcare Commission.
A report found mental health patients were more likely to have problems with medicines than those in other trusts.

The healthcare watchdog said management of mental healthcare patients’ medicines must improve, and pharmacists should be involved in patient care.

It said the findings were “concerning” given the importance of medicines in mental healthcare.

Healthcare Commission Chief Executive Anna Walker said: “Managing medicines safely, effectively and efficiently is central to the delivery of high quality care that is focused on the patient and gives value for money.”

She called on both primary care trusts and mental health trusts to look at their medicines management, and said patients in mental health trusts had told the Commission that they had not been involved as much as they would like in decisions about their medicines.

She said: “This needs to be addressed if trusts expect service users to take their medicines as prescribed.”


In research undertaken by the Prescribing Observatory for Mental Health, 36% of people were found to have been prescribed more than the maximum recommended dose of anti-psychotic medicines.

Mental health charity Rethink called for an end to the over-prescription of mental health medicines.

The charity’s chief executive Paul Jenkins said: “The Healthcare Commission has once again highlighted a shocking over-prescription of powerful medicines to people in hospital experiencing a mental health crisis.

“As well as defying national guidance, this over-prescription actually delays successful discharge in many cases.

“Everyone has the right to the best evidence-based care, but it is unacceptable that people experiencing a mental health crisis can still be treated as second class citizens.”

Reviews helpful

The Commission said the problem could be detected by an effective clinical pharmacy service.

It found that reviewing medication benefited patients, with 70% of reviews in mental health trusts leading to a change in a person’s medicine, and 46% of those reviewed being found not to be taking their medicines appropriately.

David Pruce, Director of Practice and Quality Improvement from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain said: “The evidence shows that medication reviews in mental health by specialist pharmacists can have a major impact, with over 70% of the reviews leading to a change in the patient’s medication.”

Yet 24% of wards in mental health trusts received no visits from pharmacy staff, compared to only 14% in acute trusts, and just 14% received more than five hours of pharmacy staff time in a week, compared to 64% in acute trusts.

Mr Pruce said: “The future should see specialist mental health pharmacists having an increased role in the care of patients.”

Not complacent

National Clinical Director for Mental Health, Professor Louis Appleby said: “We recognise that the safe and effective management of medicines is central to the delivery of high quality patient care.

“This report will help services address a very important issue and ensure that patients are fully involved in decisions about – and get the most from – their medicines.

“We are not complacent and more work is needed to ensure that all Trusts reach the standards of the best.”