Anxiety and breathing – try this…

Lots of people on my social media timeline are anxious at this difficult and uncertain time of Corvid-19. As a psychologist I have tools to help with anxiety and my first line of defence is 7–11 breathing. It sounds new-agey and a little bit twee —  and because the Coronavirus can cause shortness of breath and is respiratory a little scary to talk about breathing. 

But it works as it activates both psychological and physical responses that help to calm panic and anxiety. It is true that this virus can affect our lungs but we can also use our lungs to our advantage.

It’s so simple — you breathe in for a count of seven and breathe out for a count of eleven. If you can’t manage 7–11, try 3–5 or 5–9. As long as the out breath is longer than the in breath it’s fine..

Breathe in for a count of seven
Breathe out for a count of eleven
Continue for as long as you can up to 5 minutes.
It takes practice — a couple of times a day and do this when you feel anxious.

The counting will bring you into the moment and calm you psychologically. It will distract your mind from the anxiety and panic by focusing on the present. This is often referred to as mindfulness — currently a buzzword but a long-term and valid technique. 

The breathing itself — specifically the out breath — stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which is our ‘rest and digest’ state as opposed to our sympathetic nervous system ‘fight or flight’ state. For further information on this it is worth reading about the vagus nerve.

The best way to breathe is deep diaphragmatic breathing. Put simply, when take a breath in deep, your tummy moves out. When you breath out, your tummy goes in. 

For many of us this takes practice and we have been trained to hold our stomach flat. Hyperventilating in short breathes caused by stress becomes a way to breathe for many of us. Additionally, flat stomachs are valued in appearance, and holding your stomach in as you breath in is a hard habit to break. 

Breathing is such a natural process that we take for granted. But being aware of our bodies and the way they work with our mind gives us more control over our psychological state. Attention to breathing is a great way to activate the natural processes in our body to help us to be calm in the shadow of threat and danger.

It’s worth a try in these difficult and uncertain times. My love and best wishes to all of you.