Everyone has anxiety, it is a normal response to stressful situations, and in moderation it helps us perform better. But when anxiety begins to rule your life, to keep you from the people you love and the things you enjoy doing, you have to seek help. The Treatments That Work series explains the most effective interventions for a particular problem in user-friendly language. In Mastery of Your Anxiety and Panic users learn concrete strategies and techniques to deal with their fear. Below is an excerpt that explains a breathing exercise that will help you face fear calmly. Remember though that this an excerpt from a complete program that is only proven to work when practiced from beginning to end with a physician’s help.
The first step is to concentrate on taking breaths right down to your stomach (or, more accurately, to your diaphragm muscles).
- There should be an expansion (increase) of the stomach every time you breathe in, or inhale. The stomach is sucked back in every time you breathe out, or exhale.
- If you are having trouble taking the air down to your stomach, place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your stomach with the little finger about one inch above the belly button. As you breathe in and out, only the hand on your stomach should move. If you are correctly dong the exercise, there should not be much movement from the hand on your chest. If you are normally a chest breather, this may feel artificial and cause feelings of breathlessness. That is a natural response – just remembering that you are getting enough oxygen and that the feelings of breathlessness will decrease the more that you practice.
The second step is to breathe in normal amounts of air. Do not take in too much air, as it should not be a big breath.
- At this stage, breathe at your normal rate – do not try to slow down your breathing. We will work on slowing your breathing later.
- Also, keep your breathing smooth. Do not gulp in a big breath and then let it out all at once. When you breathe out, think of the air as oozing and escaping from your nose or mouth rather than being suddenly blown out. It does not matter whether you breathe through your nose or your mouth, as long as you breathe smoothly.
The third step involves meditation. You will count every time that you breathe in and think the work “relax” as you breathe out.
- That is, when you breathe in, think “one” to yourself; and as you breathe out, think the word “relax.” Think “two” on your next breath in, and think “relax” on the breath out. Think “three” on your next breath in, and think “relax” on the breath out. Continue this until you count to around “10,” and then go back to “one.”
- Focus only on your breathing and the words. This can be very difficult, and you may never be able to do it perfectly. You may not get past the first number without other thoughts coming into your mind. This is natural. When this happens, do not get angry or give up. Simply allow the thoughts to pass through your mind, and then bring your attention back to the breathing, the numbers, and the words.