Breathing For Panic Attacks – Reasons, Methods and Routine

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Copyright (c) 2010 Peter Rubel

Nasal breathing from the diaphragm often proves to be an effective means of treating anxiety and panic attacks.

I. Reasons Why Breathing Matters for Anxiety and Panic

Feelings of heightened anxiety in the face of real and imminent danger increases stress hormones like adrenalin, raises heartbeat and breathing rate, and enables the bodily exertion needed for fight or flight response. Panic attacks in many ways mimic the conditions of reasonable heightened anxiety, but without the clear and present danger to fight or to avoid. In the absence of a real threat, the fear-induced bodily reactions become counter-productive.

More rapid breathing, as one effect of heightened anxiety, can supply the muscles and organs with the extra oxygen needed to respond to a real danger. But in the case of panic and irrational anxiety, it alters the appropriate oxygen/carbon dioxide ratio in the brain, which then causes greater anxiety.

Hyperventilation has the effect of deceasing the diameter of blood vessels and hence blood flow. Decreased blood flow causes dizziness, a numb feeling in the extremities, and a sense of unreality. These effects of over-breathing typically further contribute to the rising spiral of fear and panic.

And on the other hand, consciously decreasing the breathing rate typically improves oxygen/carbon dioxide ratios and reduces the level of anxiety. As a bonus, consciously controlling breathing distracts the panic attack sufferer away from thinking about fear and its causes.

Between panic attacks, sufferers often exist in a heightened state of anxiety and hyperventilation, less anxiety and hyperventilation than during an attack, but enough to make the switch to panic easier and more likely than normal.

II. Method in Breathing for Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Breathing exercises to reduce symptoms of anxiety and panic are not difficult, but they do require discipline and, especially during an attack, mental concentration.

Those with heightened anxiety levels, like those suffering from a wide variety of health-related stresses, often breathe through the mouth. Mouth breathing makes hyperventilation easier and decreases the efficiency of oxygen/carbon dioxide flow in comparison to nasal breathing. Often mouth breathing is the method to which the person has become most accustomed, and so a bit of retraining become necessary with exercises self-consciously practiced regularly over a period of time.

Another typical suboptimal breathing practice, especially for those with a sedentary lifestyle sitting long hours in a classroom or business office, is shallow, rib-cage centered breathing. This does not make full use of the lungs and it does not use the lungs in an optimal fashion.

Under the lungs is a thin layer of muscles called the “diaphragm.” When breathing from the diaphragm (rather than from the upper rib cage), the abdomen or stomach area rises and falls when one breathes. Breathing from the diaphragm uses the whole of the lungs.

Nasal breathing from the diaphragm discourages hyperventilation and increases efficiency with respect to mouth breathing. One can breath slower and feel less or no dizziness or numbness.

III. A Routine for Teaching Oneself Proper Breathing

A breathing exercises plan geared toward reducing anxiety level follows.

1) Set apart five minutes each morning and evening. More times are preferable, but fewer times consistently is better than more times inconsistently. Mark on a calendar the same times every day. This will help solidify your commitment and make the practice a habit.

2) Get comfortable in a quiet place. Let the phone ring. Don’t answer text messages. Unplug from your iPad, iPhone, iPod, MP3 player, DVD player, whatever. Stay off the internet. Turn off radio and TV, or at least park yourself in a place where distractions are minimal. Don’t think about what you have to do or what you did that day. Relax your shoulder muscles.

You may allow yourself a watch or time piece with a seconds hand or that counts seconds.

3) In the beginning, one must take care to know one is breathing using the diaphragm. This can be verified by holding hands over the abdomen, below the rib cage. The abdomen should rise when inhaling and fall when exhaling. If the rise and fall stops, one has started to breathe improperly from the upper rib cage again.

4) Inhale through your nose from the bottom of your lungs using your diaphragm. Inhale this way for a count of four seconds–counting “one, one thousand, two, one thousand” and so on in order to approximate the seconds or use a watch.

5) After a brief pause, exhale slowly for three to four seconds as for inhaling. After a brief pause, inhale and so on.

6) Continue practicing for four to five minutes.

7) Repeat the process twice a day, morning and evening as noted for five or six weeks to develop a habit and to begin training oneself so as to make slow, controlled breathing almost second nature when one undergoes a panic attack or when one feels anxiety levels rising.

Do you feel any better? Make a note and reward yourself for successes.

Next, see which can add ways to fight against anxiety and panic attacks, and be sure to sign up for the free ebook and email mini-course at for more panic attack remedies.

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