The Anxiety Talk
There are no easy ways to talk yourself around anxiety, it is something that demands to be felt and felt intensely at times. Sure, the nomenclature we’ve assigned to anxiety is broad, but a magnitude and duration of anxiety enough to paralyze your entire day and do so day after day, is something becoming more and more common in the United States. The prevalence of people suffering is growing, and yes, part of it can be attributed to greater awareness and education and the success of anti-stigma work in popular culture, but if you look at the world around you there is cause for anxiety. It’s an issue with deep roots in society. 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders1, a number that continues to rise yearly.
While a lot of the causes of anxiety disorder require deep and wholistic care to treat, there are very necessary coping skills with concrete effects that can impact your life if you suffer from anxiety. And while this might seem silly, the most effective tool I’ve encountered in dealing with present and excessive symptoms of anxiety, is patterned breathing exercises. It’s not a panacea, it won’t effectively treat the disorder, but it will help reduce your symptoms to a level where you can operate and then perhaps, if necessary, seek a greater level of care. Anxiety can often be a fleeting thing and controlling it might deflate it for a period as well. Each individual situation is unique, but patterned breathing is a potential coping skill available if ever you find it useful to implement.
Apart from being a coping skill recommended by therapists, there is also medical evidence suggesting that patterned breathing enacts physiological changes that can counteract symptoms of anxiety. A study in Frontiers found:
“Slow breathing techniques promote autonomic changes increasing Heart Rate Variability and Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia paralleled by Central Nervous System (CNS) activity modifications. EEG studies show an increase in alpha and a decrease in theta power. Anatomically, the only available fMRI study highlights increased activity in cortical (e.g., prefrontal, motor, and parietal cortices) and subcortical (e.g., pons, thalamus, sub-parabrachial nucleus, periaqueductal gray, and hypothalamus) structures. Psychological/behavioral outputs related to the abovementioned changes are increased comfort, relaxation, pleasantness, vigor and alertness, and reduced symptoms of arousal, anxiety, depression, anger, and confusion2.”
The slow breathing technique re-patterned heart rhythms and brainwaves and effectively implemented positive psychic effects. The actual practice is described by Medline as this3:
The following steps should all be carried out in the cycle of one breath:
let your lips part. Make a whooshing sound,
exhaling completely through your mouth.
close your lips, inhaling silently through your
nose as you count to four in your head.
3. Then, for seven seconds, hold your breath.
another whooshing exhale from your mouth for eight
This, when carried out for anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute multiple times a day will effectively lower your heart rate and reduce symptoms of anxiety, even in acute onset settings.
Written by Jeremiah Ockunzzi, courtesy of Dr. Bart Rademaker, MD.