One common symptom of both anxiety and anger is shallow breathing. When people are stressed, they unconsciously drag in quick short breaths, which add to their level of anxiety. It is the traditional fight-or-flight response as the body perceives to be in danger.
What happens is when someone is stressed, they tend to change their breathing pattern and instead of breathing normally through the diaphragm, they use their shoulders and the upper part of their lungs to breathe.
The primary reason why we breathe is to expel the carbon dioxide from the body and inhale fresh oxygen, but when this normal pattern is disrupted, the composition of gases changes inside the body. Shallow, rapid breathing (also known as hyperventilating) tends to empty too much of the carbon dioxide from the body.
To maintain an equilibrium, and hence a normal body condition, the brain determines the level of oxygen and carbon dioxide required by the body. With changes in the pre-determined level of gases, hyperventilating can end up prolonging the feeling of anxiety. Exacerbating the level of anxiety, hyperventilation could result in one or more of the following:
- Muscle tension throughout the body
- Tightness around the chest
- Heart palpitation
- Excessive sweating
- Panic attacks
In some cases, if the person has a history of asthma, hyperventilating during stress can induce bouts of breathing difficulties that could require immediate medical attention.
How to regulate breathing back to normal?
One of the many techniques that work to instantly reduce anxiety is to voluntarily control how you breathe. While this might be difficult at first, with time and practice this would soon become a habit.
- Realize when you are about to hyperventilate and start taking deep breaths through your stomach.
- Regulate your breathing in tandem with loosening the tensed up muscles. Rotate your neck or gently massage your temples to calm down your nerves and overcharged brain.
- Drink a glass of cold water. Anxiety often causes dry mouth, and in some cases induces a feeling of nausea. Splashing cold water on your face helps too as it will instantly slow the heart rate.
- If you have been regularly meditating, controlling your breathing pattern would come easy to you. Meditation generally empowers people to monitor and regulate the activities in their brains and it also helps in curbing stress.
- If you suffer from anxiety disorder or are prone to getting panic attacks often, carry a brown paper bag with you. When you start to hyperventilate, breathe into the brown paper bag continuously till your breathing slows down.
- A very famous technique is to count backwards. This takes the focus away from the cause of stress and thereby subconsciously taking the emphasis away from shallow breathing.
The first step to regulating how you breathe while you are anxious is to be aware of the changes in your breathing pattern. Most of the time people are focusing completely on the factor causing the anxiety attack, which keeps on intensifying and worsening hyperventilation.