Have you experienced any of these sensations?
A vague uneasy feeling, tension, apprehension, feelings of helplessness, uncertainty, high-stress levels, inadequacy, fear, distress, or worry.
Have you been aware of any of these sensations?
Increased heart rate, increased rate of breathing, increased sweating, facial tension, dilated pupils, restlessness, or insomnia. This is anxiety.
It is a product of mental, physical, and emotional factors. Thoughts, feelings, and emotions can often be as much a product of your body as of your mind. You can control anxiety before it manifests and after it manifests.
There are two simple ways to bring your anxiety under control:
A Mindful Approach…
Before you can choose how to respond appropriately to anxious thoughts or emotions it is essential for you to cultivate mindfulness or awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and body sensations.
As Albert Einstein once stated, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”.
Negative feelings persist when you are in Doing mode as distinct from Being mode.
“Mindfulness spontaneously arises out of this ‘being’ mode when you learn to pay attention, on purpose in the present moment without judgment of things as they actually are. In mindfulness, you start to see the world as it is, not as you expect it to be, how you want it to be, or what you fear it might become”. [i]
“Meditation is a simple practice that gains its power from repetition. It’s only through this that you can become aware of the repeating patterns in your own mind. Ironically, meditative repetition frees us from endlessly repeating our past mistakes and the automatic pilot that drives self-defeating and self-attacking thoughts and actions.” [ii]
How can I bring mindfulness into my life?
You can introduce mindfulness to your life by starting a daily practice that involves spending 10-20 minutes twice daily in a quiet breathing space.
Sit with a dignified posture; with a straight back, relaxed shoulders, chin tucked in, and looking ahead. Focus on your feelings and sensations within your mind and body and without judging yourself just observe them.
After 5 minutes or so, focus on your breathing as you breathe into your belly. Focus on fully inhaling from your nose down to your diaphragm as your belly extends outward. Focus on fully exhaling as your warm breath leaves your belly and exits your nose.
Do not engage with your thoughts, simply acknowledge them and return your focus to your breathing. After 10 minutes or so, focus on your whole body and imagine that it is breathing as a whole entity.
When you disengage from your thoughts and focus on your breathing you are gently reminding yourself that your thoughts are not “facts”. They are influenced by connected thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and impulses. When you direct your mind to your breath it keeps you anchored in the present moment.
This is just one of many mindfulness practices that you can regularly perform to train you to live your life as much as possible in the present.
A Physiological Approach…
How can deep breathing techniques help my anxiety?
“There is a considerable amount of evidence to suggest that voluntary control of certain respiratory variables can modify the level of subjective anxiety experienced under a variety of different circumstances”.[iii]
Buteyko Breathing teaches you how to make a permanent transition from mouth breathing to nose breathing and from chest breathing to diaphragmatic (or belly) breathing.
There are many events, both real and imagined, which can trigger feelings of anxiety. These triggers can manifest in shallow and quick breathing (hyperventilation). Hyperventilation will restrict or tighten your airways (bronchoconstriction) and will decrease the diameter of your blood vessels (vasoconstriction).
When you learn to reduce your nasal breathing while activating your diaphragm you will achieve elevated levels of carbon dioxide and nitric oxide. Nose breathing improves oxygen transfer and carbon dioxide excretion.[iv] If you are prone to anxiety attacks, your arterial blood carbon dioxide levels will be lower than those who control their breathing.[v]
Physiologically, your pH blood level will be restored to the normal range and your immune system will be strengthened. Your dilating blood vessels will increase blood flow. The consequent relaxation of smooth muscle throughout your body including the bronchial airways will activate your parasympathetic nervous system. You will achieve calmness when this part of your nervous system is activated.
What role does Mindfulness play in performing Buteyko Breathing exercises?
during your breathing space session, you can control intrusive thoughts that may trigger past experiences or emotions or intensify future worries – some of which cause anxiety.
When you perform mindful breathing exercises you will stay in the present, instead of in the past or in the future. With regular practice, you can avoid or limit those occasions when anxiety is triggered. You can achieve clarity of mind and prevent hyperventilation from being caused by over-breathing.
Once you learn how to relax you will lower your anxiety levels. You will enjoy better quality sleep. Stress, tension, and anxiety are all enemies of sleep.
[i] Williams M and Penman D Mindfulness: a Practical guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World, 2011 p 35
[ii] Williams M and Penman D Mindfulness: a Practical guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World, 2011 p 152
[iii] Timmons B H and Ley R. Behavioural and Psychological Approaches to Breathing Disorders, 1994 p 151
[iv] Bartley J and Wong C, Nasal Physiology and Pathophysiology of Nasal Disorders: Nasal Pulmonary Interactions, 27 June 2013 pp559-566
[v] Papp L, Martinez J et al, Arterial blood gas changes in panic disorder and lactate-induced panic. Psychiatry Res. 1989;28(2):171-80