Self Care Tip #1: Circle Breathing

I used to resent breathing exercises. No, really. All the articles I read about deep breathing touted the instant benefits of breathing differently, such as reducing anxiety and stress, below stock photo images of people with peaceful smiles on their faces. No matter how much I tried, deep breathing just made my anxiety escalate.

Much to my embarrassment, I discovered I was doing it wrong.

Our bodies have two primary survival circuits: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

The sympathetic nervous system functions to get us out of danger by triggering the fight-flight-freeze response.  Some of the things it does are:

  • Making your heart beat faster and harder
  • Slowing down digestion
  • Making your breathing more rapid and shallow

The parasympathetic nervous system is like the kill switch for its sympathetic counterpart. It slows the heartrate, deepens breathing, and puts the body in a state of ease. When we’re in a state of anxiety, that’s the sympathetic nervous system trying to protect us. This is why deep breathing works. It tricks our bodies into realizing that things are actually okay. 

But, in order for it to work, it has to be done from a certain place in the body: the diaphragm.

The diaphragm is the sheet of muscle attached to the underside of your lungs. It’s very powerful. To breathe from your diaphragm, try placing a hand on your stomach (or just lightly against your shirt) and imagine your belly filling with air. If you don’t feel like this is enough of a breath, try filling your chest, too.

Circle Breathing is something I do to help myself come down from an anxiety attack. There are a few other names for this technique, including Box Breathing and diaphragmatic breathing.

How to Circle Breathe:

Breathe in from your diaphragm to the count of four. Feel your abdomen expanding. 

Hold your breath to the count of four.

Breathe out to the count of four. Feel your abdomen contracting until most of the air is out.

Hold your breath to the count of four.

Repeat as many times as you need to.

If you are a visual person, take your hand and trace a circle in the air in front of you. From the bottom of the circle, breathe in until you’re halfway up. Hold your breath until you get to the top. Breathe out until you’re halfway down. Hold your breath until you get to the bottom. Repeat.

If you’re having some trouble with this at first, no worries! It takes practice.

Here are some links to some “guided breathing” videos to get you started:

Calm – Breathe Bubble

Stop Anxiety: 4-7-8 Calm Breathing Guide

Wishing you calm and peace today.

Note: If you are experiencing a panic attack, and not just heightened anxiety, please see the video below:

BuzzFeedVideo – How to Calm Down During a Panic Attack

%d bloggers like this: