Breathwork is one of the most powerful tools in dealing with stress and anxiety. Scientific research and clinical evidence have proven that 4-6 weeks of practice is likely to result in lower the occurrence of panic attacks & improve one’s ability to recover from one faster if needed. At the same time not all breathing techniques will have such effects and some can even be harmful.
How does breathwork help with anxiety?
Breathwork consists of breathing and physical exercises that improve one’s respiratory capacity. Due to breath’s intimate link with the nervous system, breathwork is one of the fastest ways to help someone feel safe and restore regular brain function.
Based on the above definition, there are 2 pillars of breathwork: hypercapnia and hypoxia. The former can help the prevention of a panic attack and the later the recovery from one.
Individuals with anxiety tend to have low tolerance to CO2, which can cause hyperventilation and sequentially the feeling of stress.
Regular breath training can improve ones tolerance to CO2, and its negative consequences. Breathing techniques that include hyperventilation (ie: Wim Hof Breathing) result in hypocapnia and thus would be counter indicated for someone with anxiety.
Can breathwork also help with physical symptoms of anxiety?
The physical symptoms of anxiety, such as racing heart and shortness of breath, are the result of the neurological and chemical imbalances. Breathwork allows us to alter both our blood’s biochemistry and the way our nervous system is firing. To that extent breathwork is the best way to deal with such symptoms without medical intervention.
Can it be used in conjunction with other therapies?
Breathing exercises are often used by therapists, counselors and healthcare professionals alongside other treatments. This allows for a more holistic approach and quicker results. At the same time breathwork should not be confused with nonsense, such as:
• Take a breath in from the nose, out from the mouth or sigh – to release stress.
• Breathe diaphragmatically at all times.
• Always be aware of your breath.
Are there any studies that support the use of breathwork for anxiety management?
Scientific literature is inundated with papers that prove the beneficial use of breathwork for anxiety and mental health. Those interested in research however need to aware that there is good, bad and ugly papers published.
The intricate relationship between anxiety and breathing is discussed in the paper bellow which also highlights how breath can also be a contributing factor to anxiety.
An important area that research often fails to distinguish is this between breathing exercises that have a short term effect and those that have a long term effect. The ones that have a long term effect will have an impact on markers such as: resting heart rate, HRV, blood pressure, while those with a short term effect will improve only perceived stress.
Unfortunately a few papers like the one reviewed below, muddle up information calling sighing, breathwork and making unsupported claims in the abstract.
How can you learn breathing techniques to manage your anxiety?
How often and for how long should I practice?
Daily. As you are trying to re-wire your nervous system that is firing all the time you need to practice many times a day. The sessions can be 5-20mins long.
Can breathwork be used in acute anxiety situations, such as panic attacks?
Breathwork can be extremely useful in instances of panic attacks. Practicing the techniques when you are feeling well however, is ideal so that you become familiar with them. The “Easy Breath Holds” exercise is one example.
How to integrate breathwork into your daily routine?
If you dealing with anxiety, here are 5 ways breathwork can help you:
1 Regulate your circadian rhythm. You can practice breathwork before going to bed and as soon as you wake up.
2 Improve digestion. Nutrition plays a big role on how our Nervous System works. There is an intimate link between digestion, appetite and breathing.
3 Practice meditation. Breathing exercises can help you enter meditation.
4 Use your physical workouts as breath training. You can get even more out of your workouts if you modify your breathing accordingly.
5 Improve your posture. Breathwork and good posture go hand in hand.
How do you get the most out of breathwork?
To get the most out of breathwork you can follow the 3Cs rule:
1 Be CONSISTENT.
2 Practice exercises that COUNT. – There are many exercises that will make no impact on your respiratory capacity.
3 COMBINE breathing exercises with meditation, physical exercise, sleeping hygiene, relaxation techniques, rebalancing exercises.
What are the different types of breathwork practices that can help with anxiety?
When it comes to dealing with acute episodes of anxiety the options are many and it really depends on the individual’s experience and predisposition. In order however for someone to avoid panic attacks and deal with chronic anxiety the only breathing practice he/she can benefit from is hypercapnic training.
Is breathwork safe for everyone to practice?
Breathwork is 100% safe when practiced progressively and in cases of neurological, cardiovascular and blood sugar problems with supervision. Pregnant women need also to be careful when practicing breathwork. Breathing techniques that include hyperventilation however, neither do they qualify for breathwork nor are safe.