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Mindful breathing for stress and Anxiety relief

Updated on June 6, 2012


Perhaps by now you have had the chance to read my hub titled “Help for Depression & anxiety with thought control". If you haven’t gotten around to it yet, I strongly suggest reading both articles in order to get the most amount of relief. It has been the combination of thought control and mindful breathing that has literally stopped my stress and anxiety attacks in their tracks.

As I mentioned in my thought control article, anxiety, stress and panic sufferers do not spend much time in the present moment. When you’re allowing your mind to wonder off to dark places alone, it tends to create a high level of stress and anxiety in the body. It becomes extremely hard to focus on where you are, or what you're doing at the moment.

The anxious mind is a clouded, tormented and dark place filled with painful experiences of the past or negative predictions of the future. Stress and anxiety slowly rob us of the happiness and enjoyment in our present moment. Are you enjoying the sunset or are you worried about what is going to happen at work tomorrow? Are you paying attention to traffic or off wondering what to make for dinner tonight? Are you even aware of your thoughts at all?


The absent mind, and anxiety tend to be the best of friends. In order for you to have anxiety, your mind needs to be diverted, and you must be disconnected with the present moment. Once you have been diverted and become ungrounded, it's simply too easy to free fall down the dark hole of stress, depression and anxiety. Once you start learning to take control of your thoughts the next step to stopping stress and anxiety once and for all is mindful breathing. It's simple, it’s easy, 100% free and the best part is that it comes with no harmful side effects!

Every doctor, singer, and monk is aware of the fact that there are three different types of breathing. Two of them are incorrect and one of them is correct. I can assure you that chances are that you have been practicing the two wrong ones all your life. Breathing will keep you alive yes, but breathing incorrectly can eventually make you ill and breathing correctly can heal you down to your soul!

The Three Types of Breathing:

1. Clavicular or shoulder breathing--- A breath that comes from high up in the shoulders and collarbones and mostly used when having stress, panic and Anxiety Attacks.

2. Thoracic or chest breathing --- A breath that comes from the

centers of the chest

3. Abdominal breathing --- A breath that comes from the abdomen.

Any time that you are using clavicular, thoracic or chest breathing, you are drawing the minimal breath into the lungs. Shallow breathing is known to be one of the best causes for rapid breathing and hyperventilation. Most people who breathe shallowly do it throughout the day and are almost always unaware of the condition. At the first signs of stress, panic or anxiety we tend to start Clavicular breathing. We begin taking in air by raising the shoulders and collarbone, while simultaneous contracting the abdomen during inhalation. You may be able to draw large amounts of air this way, but it can only be done for a very short period of time, since it requires a lot of effort. If you insist on continuing this form of shallow breathing, several conditions tend to materialize. The more common of these are: anxiety disorders, asthma, hyperventilation, pneumonia, pulmonary edema, and shock.

Anyone reading this article that has ever had a stress, panic or anxiety attack knows exactly what I am referring to when I speak of shallow breathing. This is one of the worst things that anyone can do during an attack, because it causes hypoventilation which leads to light headedness, and eventually passing out. This type of breathing can cause a buildup of carbon dioxide and blood oxygenation in the body. Breathing from the shoulders is one of the best ways to induce stress quickly into the body, and an even better way to strain, rip or even tear muscles in your back.

The first thing you need to know in order to start healing is some knowledge about something in your body called the "Vagus Nerve" By doing abdominal breathing, you can activate this nerve and trigger a relaxation response. The relaxation response is essential for your body to heal, repair, and renew. The best way for me to explain this process is as follows:

1. The body's levels of stress hormones are regulated by: The Autonomic Nervous System or (ANS)

2. The ANS has two components that balance each other:

The sympathetic nervous system (SNS)

The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).

Think of these two components as your body’s thermostat. The SNS turns up your nervous system. The PNS turns down the nervous system.


You can proceed as follows:

Take a fairly long breath into your belly, expanding your diaphragm. Pause for a second.

Breathe out slowly through your mouth, breathing out all the breath in your lungs, remaining conscious the whole time of the exhalation.


You can perform this exercise while laying down or even lying in bed before you go to sleep at night. Thich nhat Hanh , one of the greatest Buddhist monks of all time, instructs us that the most important thing is to guard against making too much of an effort: too great an effort can be dangerous for the lungs, especially when the lungs are weak from many years of incorrect breathing. The trick is to always make the inhalation "shorter" than the exhalation. When we are having stress or panic attacks we have a tendency to do just the opposite. If you feel at all tired while practicing, stop at once. Even if you do not feel tired, do not prolong the practice beyond ten minutes. As with any exercise the more you do it the easier it will become. Remember that most people while at rest have a tendency to take 10 to 14 breaths per minute. Ideally, you want to reduce your breathing to 5 to 7 times per minute.

As you do this exercise your muscles will begin to relax, and the oxygen supply to your body's cells will increases. After a few days you will help produce endorphins, the body's feel-good hormones. Tibetan monks have been practicing this type of breathing to modulate the effects of stress for decades. Everyone learns to use breath as a tool to stop mental dispersion and to build up concentration power. This type of breathing practice will also help your memory, fight depression, lower blood pressure/heart rate and boost your immune system.

Until you have had the chance to get thoroughly acquainted with this breathing technique you might want to try these One-Time Tricks, or secret "vasovagal maneuvers". You SHOULD NOT do these maneuvers all the time, but they can be useful for stopping or interrupting panic, stress and anxiety attacks so you can find a different course of action. These maneuvers quickly and strongly activate your Vagus nerve.


Quick trick fix:

1. The birth maneuver: Bear down and squeeze your abs/intestines as if you were going to have a bowel movement on the toilet or give birth to a child.


2. The Valsalva maneuver:The Valsalva maneuver is performed by moderately and forceful attempted exhalation against a closed airway. Done by closing one's mouth, pinching one's nose shut while pressing out as if blowing up a balloon. A very common maneuver to Prevent Ear Pain When Flying.


3. Mammalian diving reflex: First discovered in beavers, the mammalian diving reflex is a self-preservation technique triggered in extreme situations. When the body is suddenly submerged in water or caught in a freezing environment, all of the major systems slow almost to a halt, minimizing the need for oxygen, increasing the chances of survival. Immerse your face in ice cold water. The diving reflux begins when you submerge your head and stops when you begin breathing again.

All of the above methods have been tested while patients were wearing heart rate monitor. The heart rate in test subjects dropped 10-20bpm within a few seconds, without exception. After doing this breathing exercise for two weeks, you should start to notice a huge difference in your stress, panic and anxiety levels. I sincerely hope that you give this breathing technique an honest try. This is as simple as it gets and you have nothing to lose but a ton of stress and anxiety! Most importantly however.....Don't forget to breath!.....correctly

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    • Maddambutterfly profile image
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      Marie V Stephens 5 years ago from New Mexico

      Thanks bill! I strongly believe that mind, body and soul must all be taken care of at the same time. Thanks for stopping in, always love and look forward to your comments.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Fascinating hub...really! I have just begun a journey towards improving my physical wellness and have started similar breathing exercises. I can definitely feel the difference. Thank you for more information about this important subject.