Belly Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, is usually the first tool I give people because it is the simplest and most immediately effective. This essentially involves the practice of breathing with your diaphragm. The diaphragm is the dome-shaped muscle just below your rib cage that assists with the motor function of breathing. Breathing predominantly through the diaphragm is the most efficient way to breath and distribute oxygen. However, people who are chronically anxious and stressed tend to breath through the chest instead of the diaphragm. Unfortunately, breathing predominantly through the chest is the most inefficient way to breath. Chest breathing also sends a message to your brain that you are not getting enough oxygen, which increases anxiety and, therefore, more rapid and/or prolonged chest breathing. This becomes a vicious cycle that reinforces chronic anxiety and physiological arousal. Ironically, chest breathing becomes a habit for people with chronic anxiety and stress, unbeknownst to them. The good news is that this is a habit that can be retrained with relative ease.

When it comes to retraining any unhealthy habit, the process starts with awareness… Go ahead and put one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly (i.e., your diaphragm). Then, try to breath the way that you normally and naturally breath…

Which hand is moving the most?…

If it’s the hand on your chest, there’s a good chance that you’re in the habit of breathing through your chest…

Now I’d like for you to try breathing through your chest, rapidly on purpose. The hand on your chest should be moving first and most predominantly…

Notice the effect that this has on your body…

Notice how you immediately begin to tense up. Notice how your shoulders and neck tighten. Notice the way that your heart rate and pulse speed up. You may even start experiencing some racing thoughts or panicky thoughts…

You see, when you breath short, rapid breaths through your chest like this, it switches on your Fight/Flight/Freeze (FFF) response. In other words, it flips on your sympathetic nervous system, which activates the FFF response…

Now I’d like for you to try slowly breathing through your belly (i.e., your diaphragm). The hand on your belly should be moving first and most predominantly…

Again, notice the effect that this has on your body…

Notice how your muscles begin to relax and soften, especially your shoulders and neck. Notice the way your heart rate and pulse slow down. Notice how your racing thoughts begin to slow down…

When you breath deep, slow belly breaths, this switches on your parasympathetic nervous system, which deactivates the FFF response.

Belly breathing is a direct way to control your FFF response and, therefore, anxiety. Now that you are aware of the way you normally breath and how it feels to breath through your chest versus your belly, practice belly breathing on a daily basis to make it habit. The more you practice belly breathing the better. If you are accustomed to breathing through your chest, this will take more intentional practice at first, but the more you practice it, the more it will become second nature. Practice makes habit! Once belly breathing becomes habit, your overall, baseline anxiety and physiological arousal should decrease substantially.

Have courage and kind wishes!

Tannah E. Chase, Ph.D.

Licensed Psychologist

The Anxiety Counseling Clinic, P.L.L.C.

Website: www.anxietycounselingclinic.com

Phone: 234-256-0067

Email: Dr.Chase.T@gmail.com

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