Breathing techniques for anxiety are often recommended by therapists as part of our treatment of patients with anxiety, although we don’t completely understand how it works and the quality of the research is somewhat lacking. Breathing techniques for anxiety fall under the category of relaxation techniques. They have their roots in eastern meditation and yoga. In the west, we started using breathing in our therapy offices in the 70's. It is considered a common treatment protocol for stress management and general anxiety (Wiley 2012). There are two breathing techniques for anxiety that are discussed here: yogic breathing, and diaphragmatic breathing. But first, some facts that might help explain why it’s a good choice as an intervention.
Consider these facts:
In my work with children and adults for the last 21 years, I have been using diaphragmatic breathing regularly. I also know several therapists who have acquired dual certifications in yoga and therapy because they believe in the connection so strongly. Like all interventions, they need to be tailored to the client, but generally they are highly effective. The lack of research likely stems from the failure to attend to the connection between the body and mind in our culture and our reliance on pharmaceuticals to treat any ailment.
To reiterate, all forms of anxiety can cause an increased rate of breathing, and specifically shallow breathing (short and through your chest) which can lead to an excess of oxygen. In the case of panic attacks for example, this can lead to dizziness and lightheadedness. Diaphragmatic breathing is a technique that most people can learn that is relaxing and calming. It must begin to be practiced twice a day for ten minutes in the absence of anxiety so the skill is acquired, and the body is relaxed. It helps with exposure to anxiety, because people are more likely to be able to face difficult and challenging events if their body is in a state of relaxation. When faced with an anxious thought, experience, or feeling, if your body is more relaxed, you are more likely to be able to engage it ( Barlow and Craske ( 2007).
How do you do it?
“Yogic breathing (Pranayam) involves control of the rate, depth and type of breathing and is considered to be an important component of yogic practice (Tiwari, N., & Baldwin, D. S. 2012)”.
There are studies with yogic breathing that suggest that it has positive health benefits for healthy people, people with health problems, and people with ocd and ptsd. As with other studies on alternative routes of treatment, the research designs are somewhat flawed and more are needed (Tiwari, N., & Baldwin, D. S. 2012). Regardless, my clients who engage in yoga report tremendous gains.
How do you do it? Find someone who teaches yoga and learn!
Mastery of Your Anxiety and Panic-Workbook (Fourth Edition), by David H. Barlow and Michelle G. Craske, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007), 212 pp., $29.95 paperback.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy : Core Principles for Practice (1). Hoboken, US: Wiley, 2012. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 4 December 2016.
Tiwari, N., & Baldwin, D. S. (2012). Yogic breathing techniques in the management of anxiety and depression: Systematic review of evidence of efficacy and presumed mechanism of action. Mind & Brain, 3(1) Retrieved from http://nclive.org/cgi-bin/nclsm?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1125078655?accountid=13217
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