Take Control of Your Breathing – Shortness of Breath and Panic Attacks
Introduction When we experience a state of anxiety, it can be extremely difficult to take a deep breath. Shortness of breath and panic attacks can trigger a feeling of helplessness and disruption to the body’s sensory equilibrium. This can lead to a range of unpleasant physical and emotional symptoms which can be difficult to cope with. Fortunately, there are methods and techniques which can empower individuals to take control of their breathing and overcome the challenges they face. In this article, we explore how to alleviate anxiety-related breathing difficulty, tips for regaining full lung capacity, reframing fear and achieving calm with breath practices, and how to empower yourself with elements of skillful and mindful breathing.
Take a Deep Breath: Understanding Shortness of Breath
Shortness of breath is a term used to describe breath that is difficult, labored, or uncomfortable even at rest. While there are multiple causes of breathlessness, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, ventricular tachycardia, and congestive heart failure, one of the most common causes is anxiety. The sensation of being unable to take a deep breath and calm oneself can become overwhelming and trigger a spiral of anxiety and fear.
Shortness of breath can produce a range of physical symptoms in the body:
- Racing heart
- Increase in perspiration
- Shallow, faster breathing
- Tightness in the chest
- Tingling in fingers and toes
- Shakiness or trembling
- Feeling weak or dizzy
These symptoms can lead the sufferer to believe they are in physical danger, further heightening the sense of fear and panic they experience.
In addition to physical symptoms, shortness of breath can also lead to psychological challenges:
- Uneasiness or restlessness
- Feelings of dread
- Fear of losing control
- Thoughts of death or illness
- Irrational thinking
These thoughts can lead to an increased sensation of fear and panic, creating an uncomfortable cycle. It is important to note that the fear created by shortness of breath can be extremely powerful, and that it is a natural reaction to a sensation which is perceived as threatening.
How to Alleviate Anxiety-Related Breathing Difficulty
The first step to addressing anxiety-related breathlessness is to recognize and accept that the sensation is normal and will pass in time. It can also be useful to understand that the sensation of not being able to take a deep breath is caused by the body’s natural response to feeling threatened. This understanding can be extremely helpful in helping to manage the physical and psychological discomfort that may arise.
Relaxation practices such as progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and mindfulness meditation can be effective tools in helping to reduce symptoms of shortness of breath. Taking a few moments to focus on the breath can help to ease tight muscles and be a useful reset button when feeling panicked or anxious. It is important to note that while these practices can help to ease physical discomfort, they also create space for the mind to settle, which can help to alleviate the psychological distress associated with shortness of breath.
The Power of Distraction
Distraction can be a valuable tool in helping to reduce the intensity of physical and mental distress associated with shortness of breath. It can be helpful to practice focusing on something else, such as a favorite song, a calming mantra, or a visual image. The aim is to distract the mind from the uncomfortable sensation and provide a sense of relief.
Tips for Regaining Full Lung Capacity and Easing Breathlessness
There are several techniques which can aid in regaining full lung capacity and easing breathlessness. A few of the most effective include:
Pursed Lip Breathing
Pursed lip breathing is a technique designed to control the rate and depth of the breath. It involves inhaling slowly through the nose and exhaling slowly through pursed lips, as if whistling. This technique helps to increase the volume of air in the lungs and can be especially helpful for those suffering from asthma or COPD.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a technique which focuses on using the diaphragm as an anchor for slower, deeper breaths. It involves inhaling and focusing the breath on the lower abdomen to expand the rib-cage and maximize the capacity of the lungs. Diaphragmatic breathing can help to reduce the sensation of shortness of breath and relax physical tension in the body.
Yogic Breath Work
Yoga-based breathwork is a powerful technique which can reduce the physical and mental effects of shortness of breath. It involves slow, controlled Pranayama (breathing) techniques, such as Kapalabhati and Ujjayi, to focus and direct the breath, as well as yogic poses, such as Pavanamuktasana and Nadi Shodhana, to unlock physical and mental tension and increase lung capacity.
Reframing Your Fear and Achieving Calm with Breath Practices
Reframing the fear associated with shortness of breath is essential in helping to move towards a sense of calm and control. The goal of reframing is to use the power of the mind to shift away from the feeling of panic to a more tranquil state.
Labeling Fears and Feelings
One way to reframe fear associated with shortness of breath is to practice labelling feelings and fears. This involves identifying and acknowledging the sensations in the body and naming them, in order to create emotional distance and understanding. Using an anchor breath can also be particularly helpful in this process, as it provides an opportunity to regulate the breath and create emotional stability.
Visualization techniques can also be useful in reframing fear associated with shortness of breath. This involves imagining oneself in a peaceful environment, or focusing on an image which brings a sense of calm. It can be helpful to use an anchor breath during this practice, as it allows the individual to stay in the present moment and connect with the visualization.
Focusing on the Present
Finally, focusing on the present is essential for creating emotional stability and letting go of any limiting beliefs. It involves recognizing and accepting the current moment, without judgment, and taking a few moments to simply be present in the here and now.
Empowering Yourself with Elements of Skillful and Mindful Breathing
Mindful and skillful breathing are essential elements of managing shortness of breath and panic attacks. Mindful breathing involves recognizing and paying attention to the natural rhythms of the breath, as well as any physical sensations that arise, in order to achieve a sense of inner stillness and emotional regulation. Skillful breathing involves focusing on breath regulation and deepening the breath through conscious control.
Controlling the Breath
Controlling the breath is an important aspect of skillful breathing. It involves controlling the rate, depth, and tempo of the breath, as well as being aware of any physical sensations or changes that occur. Common techniques used to regulate the breath include rhythmic breathing and paced breathing. Regular practice of skillful breathing techniques can help to increase lung capacity, as well as reduce physical and emotional tension.
Staying Mindful of the Body and Emotions
Staying mindful of the body and emotions is a crucial part of calming the mind and gaining control of the breath. It involves paying attention to body sensations and emotions without trying to change them. Practicing mindful breathing can help to alleviate feelings of restlessness, as well as manage the physical symptoms of shortness of breath.
Exploring Breath Experiences
Exploring breath experiences is another powerful tool in regaining control of the breath. This involves exploring the breath-body experience, as well as the relationship between the body and the mind, in order to identify patterns and create new possibilities. It can be helpful to use breath-focused visualization techniques and to move away from any fear or tension associated with shortness of breath. Conclusion Shortness of breath and panic attacks can be frightening experiences which can cause a range of physical and psychological difficulties. Fortunately, there are a variety of tools and techniques which can empower individuals to take control of their breathing. These include relaxation practices, distraction, pursed-lip breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, yogic breath work, labelling of fears and feelings, visualization, focusing on the present, and exploring breath experiences. Practicing these strategies and techniques can help to reduce the intensity of the sensation of shortness of breath, as well as create a strong sense of control and calm.