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How to Control Anxiety and How to Fall Asleep

Have you ever found yourself suddenly feeling sweaty, mind racing, heart jack hammering away and your chest heaving far too quickly?

Some examples where this experience may occur are:

  • just before boarding a plane or before the plane takes off
  • sitting in the waiting room of a dentist or doctor
  • being asked to deliver a speech without warning
  • fighting traffic when late for an appointment
  • after having experienced an emotional shock or trauma
  • being unable to fall asleep or go back to sleep

In each of the above situations you will be hyperventilating and your opportunity for physical movement is likely to be extremely limited. You may recall from my earlier post  that hyperventilation is partly defined as ” a pulmonary ventilation rate that is greater than necessary for the exchange of pulmonary gases“.

Anxiety, in the experience of Professor L C Lum, is usually the product and not the prime cause of hyperventilation.  See the paper by Professor Lum “Hyperventilation: The Tip and the Iceberg  Lum_1975_Hyperventilation_the_tip___the_iceberg.pdf

If possible, you should remove yourself from the situation provoking the anxiety attack. You can then practise an exercise designed to assist a hyper ventilator bring her or his breathing under control by arresting a very high pulse and a low control pause. You may recall that a control pause is simply a measurement of how long you can comfortably hold your breath. The following exercise takes about 2 1/2 minutes to complete…..

  1. Inhale and exhale to and from your diaphragm (or belly) – twice *
  2. After the 2nd exhale hold your breath for 2 seconds
  3. Repeat step 1 and then after the 2nd exhale hold your breath for 3 seconds
  4. Continue repeating step 1 with a breath hold after the 2nd exhale for a second longer until you reach 10 seconds
  5. After holding your breath after the 2nd exhale for 10 seconds then continue to reduce your breath hold by 1 second after step 1 until you eventually return to a 2 second breath hold

* Although it is highly preferable for step 1 being performed only through your nose it is recognized that if you are extremely anxious it may be necessary to initially mouth breathe until you experience a slowing of the rate and volume of your breath so you can switch to nasal breathing.

The concentration required in carrying out this exercise is very useful in distracting you from the event which caused the anxiety or trauma and which has resulted in hyperventilation.

I have found that the first breath of step 1 is usually a little unstable following the breath hold but the 2nd inhale is comparatively smoother and more regular. The longer you practise this exercise the more manageable it becomes as CO2 continues to accumulate.

I have successfully used this anti-hyperventilation exercise on many occasions to fall back asleep when anxious or the victim of an overactive mind. It is essential that if you are lying in bed the exercise is performed while lying on your side (preferably your left side) and not on your back. It may be necessary to repeat the exercise depending upon your initial level of anxiety.

On one occasion I was due to present a paper to an audience on a topic I knew well. I felt prepared and was keen to deliver the paper. However I noticed to my surprise that my heart began beating very fast and that I was sweating and rapidly chest breathing. Doubt had entered my mind and I was feeling inadequate as previous presenters had delivered a power point presentation where I only had my notes! I immediately carried out the exercise and managed to control my anxiety. By the time I was due to deliver my paper I was calm and relaxed. I later received compliments on the presentation.

The most terrifying aspect of anxiety is the apparent lack of control you have over how you are feeling and thinking. This simple exercise enables you to regain control over your feelings and enable you to think more clearly.

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