Many people have a tendency to breathe faster than normal when they are anxious. Sometimes this can make you feel a little dizzy, which makes you more anxious and you breathe even faster, which can make you more anxious, etc. If you practise ‘deep breathing’ when you are relaxed, you should be able to do this when you feel tense or anxious to help you to relax.
Try the following for 2-3 minutes. Practise this every day until you can do it routinely in any stressful situation:
- Breathe slowly and deeply in through your nose, and out through your mouth in a steady rhythm. Try to make your breath out twice as long as your breath in. To do this you may find it helpful to count slowly “one, two” as you breathe in, and “one, two, three, four” as you breathe out.
- Mainly use your diaphragm (lower chest muscle) to breathe. Your diaphragm is the big muscle under the lungs. It pulls the lungs downwards which expands the airways to allow air to flow in. When we become anxious we tend to forget to use this muscle and often use the muscles at the top of the chest and our shoulders instead. Each breath is more shallow if you use these upper chest muscles. So, you tend to breathe faster, and feel more breathless and anxious, if you use your upper chest muscles rather than your diaphragm.
- You can check if you are using your diaphragm by feeling just below your breastbone (sternum) at the top of your abdomen. If you give a little cough, you can feel the diaphragm push out here. If you hold your hand here you should feel it move in and out as you breathe.
- Try to relax your shoulders and upper chest muscles when you breathe. With each breath out, consciously try to relax those muscles until you are mainly using your diaphragm to breathe.