BREATH: A Powerful Tool To Relieve Anxiety

How would you know if your breathing has some room for improvement?

In the Self-Care Goddess Podcast episode #60 we talk about how to revolutionize your physical fitness and overall performance with the science of functional breathing. With proper breathing techniques as a part of our fitness regime, we can increase oxygen delivery to every part of our body. On my podcast we talk about exercises that help us increase aerobic intensity while expending less effort, breathing less heavily and improving energy levels, concentration, and mental focus. The following information is just a few of the golden nuggets from our insightful conversation, with a leading international expert on breathing and sleep, Patrick McKeown.

The following information highlights just a few of the golden nuggets from this episode, listen to the entire episode here.

Control Your Breath To Control Your Mind

Breathing is the first pillar of Self-Care and longevity. 75% – 83% of the people with anxiety and panic disorder have irregular breathing patterns that if corrected can help alleviate their symptoms.  How can you tell if you’re breathing improperly – well if your respiratory rate is faster than what it should be and if there are no natural pauses after exhalation; these are signs of improper breathing. If we can improve our breathing, we can improve our sleep. Breathing through the nose in a quiet, gentle manner during sleep reduces snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. During our conversation, Patrick talks about his struggle with sleep apnea and how he overcame it by correcting his breathing. One fundamental thing in breathing correctly is the importance of exhalation. Focus on the exhalation and slow down the speed of exhalation. Whenever you’re in a difficult situation your breathing might get a little faster and harder. When you slow down the speed of the exhalation, your body is telling the brain that everything is okay. You might not be in total calmness, but you can still influence it to some degree. We all have small situations that happen during the day and these small situations are a great practice for controlling our breathing. When something bigger goes wrong, we can tap into this slow-paced exhalation. After all if “You control your breathing, You can control your mind”!

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Why Is Mouth Breathing Bad?

Mouth breathing is a dysfunctional breathing pattern, related to stress and disease. Many of us are sleeping with an open mouth for six to eight hours impacting our sleep and breathing. Once you reach the age of 40, you’re 60% more likely to spend at least half the night breathing through an open mouth. Mouth breathing is often fast, hard, audible and involves visible movement of the upper chest. Patrick argues that the benefits of mouth breathing are absolutely zero. When children are mouth breathing their face is usually elongated. Mouth breathers are likely to have bad breath and make a lot of noise while eating, because they struggle to eat and breathe at the same time. Mouth breathing dries the saliva, creating a breeding ground for the bacteria that cause tooth decay. Thus, for both respiratory and mental health nose breathing is essential because when you breathe through your nose, you’ve got a connection between the nose and the brain that we don’t have when we breathe through an open mouth. Also, aerobic performance is improved when we breathe in and out through our nose during physical exercise because carbon dioxide increases in the blood with the air hunger that is felt. And as carbon dioxide increases in the blood, hemoglobin, which is the main carrier of oxygen, releases oxygen to the working muscles, so you stay aerobic for longer when you maintain nose breathing during physical exercise. The nose is the primary organ for breathing that purifies, moistens and filters air getting rid of pathogens so they can’t enter the lungs.

Want to learn the “Transformational Benefits of the Elemental Rhythm Breathwork”? Listen to the Self-Care Goddess podcast episode #14 on on the Self-Care Goddess Podcast.

Techniques To Help With Anxiety and Depression

Many people with depression, anxiety and panic disorder get anxious by even focusing on their breathing. 75% of the population has poor breathing patterns. Stress is changing our breathing but our poor breathing patterns is magnifying the stress! Our goal is to gently restore breathing patterns but also stimulate the vagus nerve to help bring balance to the autonomic nervous system.

  1. Patrick recommends to start off with breathing recovery. You take a normal breath in and out through the nose and you pinch your nose. Only pinch the nose and hold the breath for three seconds. Then breathe normal for about 10 to 15 seconds. Again breathe in and out and pinch the nose and hold for a count of 1-2-3. And then breathe normally for about 10 to 15 seconds. Repeat. Sometimes we would only work with this exercise for a couple of days, maybe five minutes six times daily. When you take an over breath in and out through your nose and you hold your breath, it’s almost as if you’re extending the exhalation. It has a vagal toning effect to help stimulate the vagus nerve, which in turn is secreting a substance called acetylcholine, that causes a slowing of the heart, telling the brain that everything is okay.
  2. With anxiety, Patrick recommends this light breathing exercise to see how your body responds to the feeling of air hunger over the course of 30 seconds. Hold your breath for 30 seconds then take a minute’s rest. And then do 30 seconds of air hunger again followed by a minute’s rest and gently increase the duration of air hunger. This way we are stimulating breathing to bring a balance to the autonomic nervous system.
  3. Another good exercise is focused on exhalation. If you feel that focusing on your breathing gives you trouble, then take a normal breath in through your nose and hum the exhalation out through your nose. Forming that focus on the humming is going slow down your exhalation, which will help stimulate the vagus nerve.

We also discuss different tools for somebody coming in with panic disorder. They can be advised to:

  • breathe in and out through their nose and hold their breath,
  • walk 5-10 paces to give them a teaspoon of air hunger,
  • go for a walk for 10 minutes with the mouth closed or
  • take off socks & walk outside on the grass bare feet to get grounding with their mouth closed.

I invite you to listen to my amazing conversation “Conscious Breathing Your First Pillar of Self-Care” on the Self-Care Goddess podcast episode #30, on the Self-Care Goddess Podcast.

How And Why Female Breathing Is Different?

Patrick says that female breathing is definitely different because of hormonal changes. Hormonal changes change our breathing patterns. There are several stages to a woman’s menstrual cycle: menstruation, follicular phase, ovulation, luteal phase. In mid luteal phase, there’s an increase in progesterone and since progesterone is a respiratory stimulant breathing becomes harder and faster. In this phase the female is going into a naturally more stressful response and because of the faster and harder breathing, her carbon dioxide levels can drop, by as much as 25%. This can contribute to feelings of panic disorder, anxiety, premenstrual symptoms, fatigue, cramps, increased pain. Patrick says that females at the early stages of the month should be pushing themselves and in the latter stages of the month should be taking it easy and focus on recovery. So, during the luteal phase women should be taking it easy and breathe lighter, slow and deep and take it easy even during physical exercise. Unfortunately, we both agreed that we have probably lost the art of listening to our body because our body will tell us this – naturally.

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Take Home Message

Patrick says “give breathing a chance” because there is really something in this. The greatest tool for the rest of our life is having the ability to be able to regulate our physiology such that when things go wrong (and things do go wrong) you have something to connect with. Even though you feel that you may not be able to bring calmness 100% it doesn’t matter. Can you reduce the agitation of the mind 10% or 20%? Because that 10 or 20% can be all the difference to build that resilience for future situations with proper breathing. Ever since I started breathwork I feel a real connection with life, bringing my attention into the present moment. If you do have anxiety and panic disorder, dip your toe into the water very gently. And check how your body responds at every stage.

Listen to the full podcast episode #60 on the Self-Care Goddess Podcast.

I look forward to connecting with you and learning more about your story and your health and wellness goals. Schedule a FREE introduction call here.