This is a simple breathing exercise that can help to alleviate symptoms of panic and anxiety. It is easy to remember with just a little practice and can be used anytime you begin to feel anxious, stressed or in need of soothing and calming. Gaining control of the breath, focusing on slowing down and changing the rhythm of your breathing, helps to kick-start the soothing and calming systems in your body and can counter the fight or flight responses which cause symptoms of anxiety to occur. You don’t need to wait for symptoms of anxiety or panic to appear: try it whenever you feel like having a moment of calm. You can do this breathing exercise anywhere you choose, for example whilst sitting in a waiting room or at a bus stop. If at home, if you can, lie or sit somewhere quiet and comfortable where you are unlikely to be disturbed.
There are only 4 simple stages to remember:
- Take a slow in-breath for a count of 4 seconds
- Hold in the breath for a count of 2 seconds
- Release the breath slowly for a count of 6 seconds
- Take a slight pause before starting stage 1 again
You can repeat this cycle of breathing, counting as you go, for as long feels necessary. Just remember the pattern of 4, 2 & 6 seconds. Throughout the exercise, pay attention to where the areas of tension are in your body and try to relax them: let your shoulders drop, and if you feel comfortable to do so, you may close your eyes. Pay attention to the feelings in your body and focus on any sensations of relaxation that may occur. Try to deepen the feeling whilst continuing to control the breath. If this pattern of breathing doesn’t work for you, try shortening it to a 3 out, hold for 1, exhale for 4 pattern. The important thing is that the out breath is a little slower than the in-breath.
If you don’t quite get it at first, continue to practice. Slow, rhythmic breathing, like the exercise described here, can help to alleviate feelings of general anxiety and with practice even help control anxiety and panic attacks as they occur.