I can almost guarantee that you are not breathing properly. The breath is an extremely underrated and poorly understood physiological phenomenon by many. It is the only physiological mechanism which is regulated by the autonomic nervous system but can also be consciously influenced. One may wonder, how could breathing have anything to do with anxiety and depression?
First, let’s talk about what is currently wrong with our ideas around anxiety & depression. Most people think that these states of mind are a result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. This is such bullshit. We are not merely a reflection of the chemical soup in our brains. We are so vastly different and each of us may have our own unique chemical brain soup which is specific to us. To hold everyone to the same standard is absolutely ridiculous. We should not be looking at the chemical imbalance as the cause but rather the effect. Why is there a lack of dopamine or serotonin in the first place? Why would you ever believe that taking a drug which manipulates the natural mechanism by which these neurotransmitters are transmitted would lead to lasting changes? Over time, the body will compensate for the drugs’ effects, build tolerance and return back to its state of imbalance. This is when your doctor increases the dose of your drugs and your lead down this perpetual path of dependance. Drugs are never the answer to anxiety, depression or anything for that matter. Our current medical system has us believing that we can manage our symptoms by the use of these drugs and unnatural interventions, but that is not the case whatsoever. You are only leading yourself down a path of pain and discomfort, because coming off these drugs are no joke. Neither is being on them, just read the side effects.
So, what does breathing have to do with anxiety & depression? Everything, actually. Most of us are not breathing properly. The way you should be breathing is as follows: Breathe in and allow your diaphragm to expand in all directions, inflating just like a balloon; then, when breathing out your abdomen contracts pushing the air out. You should feel the pressure created by breathing deep expanding your belly as well as your pelvic floor. This is a true deep breath. But, most of us just breathe into our chest, and our bellies are way too tight. What this poor motor pattern of breathing in your chest and keeping your belly tight does is maintain a state of fight/flight in the nervous system. Breathing directly influences your nervous system and dictates whether you are in a fight/flight state or rest/digest. When taking a real deep breath, you feel your belly and pelvic floor relax and expand to allow room for the diaphragm to drop allowing more room for the lungs to expand which stimulates the vagus nerve and induces a plethora of amazing effects. The nervous system relaxes, blood pressure is regulated and a feeling of calm washes over.
When suffering from anxiety, you are stuck on your in breath. By this I mean your taking too much air in and not letting enough out, hence a sigh of relief. To remedy an anxious state you must calm yourself, bring attention to your breath, take a deep breath in and let out a nice siggggghhhh. In contrast, depressed people are stuck on their out breath. Meaning, they are not taking in enough air. Without enough oxygen, the body will have depressed energy levels since oxygen literally fuels the electricity that makes us tick. Oxygen is life. Breathing is balance. If you are taking in too much air and not breathing out enough, your nervous system will be in a state of overexcitement and if you are not breathing deeply enough your nervous system will be depressed.
Breathing properly takes a lot of practice. Take a look at a newborn baby or a small child, you will notice they breathe naturally. They have a loose, relaxed belly and take full deep breaths. But over time, due to poor motor pattern development, stress/trauma & just aging in general, we loose that natural looseness which we observe in small children. Most people think of breathing in terms of the biochemical gas exchange between O2/CO2, however the mechanics of your breath are the key. I will write an entire other blog post on the mechanics of breathing and how they effect posture, skeletal/muscular structure & chronic pain.
This is not something you practice during a panic attack. You must practice deep, proper breathing daily to truly see a difference. This will naturally loosen your body and balance your nervous system, preventing panic attacks and physiological responses of that sort. It takes time to correct your breathing mechanics, but just like anything else, if practiced consistently the results are indisputable.
Practice for anxiety and depression:
It is difficult to describe certain exercises to correct your breathing and open up your muscular system to allow full deep breathing. I will be making videos and posting them on YouTube so it is easier to see exactly how to perform these exercises. Learning how to breathe correctly completely changed my life. Not only did it give me more control over my emotions, reactions & overall mental health, but it drastically reduced nagging joint pain, digestive issues, & immensely improved by cardiovascular capabilities.