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Do you struggle with anxiety? The Teachman PACT lab at the University of Virginia is looking for adults (ages 18 and older) who struggle with anxiety symptoms to enroll in a new, free, online anxiety-reduction program. We are recruiting participants to help us learn how we can help individuals combat anxiety via online training. To determine your eligibility for the study, visit https://mindtrails.virginia.edu and click on "Get Started Now.” All training sessions and assessments can be completed on a computer, phone, or tablet. For more information, please visit https://mindtrails.virginia.edu or contact: PACT LAB Department of Psychology, University of Virginia Email: email@example.com IRB: 2017-0234-00 PI: Bethany Teachman, Ph.D.
Panic attacks suck. I know it, you know it and anyone who has fallen victim to one knows it. However, this one simple exercise could help you relax in a pinch. What if I told you that you might be breathing all wrong? In fact, experts estimate that only around 12.5% of the population uses this optimal breathing technique. I understand it may sound silly to some that breathing has a technique to it. Let’s face it, air goes into your lungs and air leaves your lungs. It can’t be that hard, right? If I told you to stand straight up and take a deep breath, most of us don't use Diaphragmatic breathing; also known as abdominal breathing or belly breathing. Instead, they would likely be lifting their chest or shoulders to take in a deep breath. This is called shallow breathing and can cause more problems than you think. Breathing with the Belly Imagine an infant sleeping soundly in front of you. Do you notice that the child does not actually breathe with their chest and shoulders?. Babies automatically breathe using a muscle called the diaphragm. We humans instinctually use this same muscle while we are sleeping or unconsciously breathing. The problem is that when we are conscious about our breathing and with the knowledge of the lungs as we age, we lift our chest and shoulders to take a deep breath. This doesn’t mean we never belly breath, it just means that when we are consciously aware of our breath we tend to trick ourselves. Not to mention that after some time of being consciously aware of the ability to control our breath, we tend to use shallow breathing more than belly breathing. Unfortunately, when you are having a panic attack, you are very conscious of your breath, which leads to hyperventilation. Not to worry though because this easy exercise can get you back on track to breathing correctly. Taking a Deep Breath To take a truly deep breath and be consciously aware of it, the first thing you must do is just be aware of your posture. You can do this exercise in one of three recommended positions: 1. Standing straight up in a relaxed position trying to keep the chest out slightly and shoulders back. 2. Sitting straight up in a relaxed position trying to keep the chest out slightly and shoulders back. 3. The easiest way is to simply lay on the hard floor. Note: This can be used during a panic attack, and I would suggest the floor because it is the most restrictive to your movements. I would not recommend lying on a soft bed for this exercise because your body will sink down causing your shoulders to squeeze your chest area. So, now that you have your position, take one hand and place it over your chest, and then place the other hand right below the ribcage so the thumb is touching the curve of the lower part of the sternum. Now, take a soft breath and then exhale, but when you exhale pull your abdomen in as much as you can. You will notice that this helps empty the lungs. Start to inhale, but as you do focus on your stomach and push it out. You will notice that even when pushing your stomach out your body automatically inhales as this is using your diaphragm. Now, upon exhaling make sure it is slow and extended. Your hands are merely there to help you be consciously aware of which part of the body to move while breathing. Try to take large, but short, comfortable inhales, followed by long slow exhales. This allows your body to relax and your heart to slow. Exhaling gives your body a natural relaxation response. I cannot stress enough that it is ideal to go slow and steady, but comfortable. Counting for Comfort Now that you understand the breathing technique, it is best to make sure not to overdo the process. I cannot tell you how many times I have been focusing on my breath, and suddenly noticed I began to hyperventilate because I was literally overly worried about how much air I actually needed. I have come up with a little counting exercise to use during those exact moments. That way I will always know how to calm myself without inducing hyperventilation. After your first inhale hold your breath for 5 to 7 seconds. Exhale slowly as previously instructed, but DO NOT inhale immediately. Pause for 3-5 seconds before you pull in your next breath. Once you figure out a good and comfortable rhythm try to add counts to your inhale and exhale. Inhale slowly for 3 to 5 seconds, Hold for 10 seconds, exhale for 8 seconds and wait to inhale for 3 to 5 more seconds. Practice Makes Perfect Once you have the technique pretty well memorized I would suggest putting in some practice and making it habitual. Giving any skill practice will cultivate it over time and belly breathing is no different. I suggest taking five minutes per day to really focus on this great technique. After a while, you will notice that during the day you will automatically belly breath to relax. Wrapping It Up There are so many great things that can come from belly breathing beside a quick panic attack helper. But the greatest thing it increases for someone like us who suffers from anxiety is the increased relaxation. Every time you belly breath to fill your lungs completely and then follow with a slow exhale your body gets love from your brain telling it to calm down. While this is not a cure for anxiety, it is a really great tool for you to use anywhere at any time. Not to mention, when it becomes habitual you will find it helps to lessen a number of panic attacks you will have. Give it a try. You have nothing to lose except an incorrect way to breath.