Under the Hood

Take A Deep Breath: The Science Behind How Certain Breathing Techniques Can Quell A Panic Attack

calm
Just watching this breathing video for five minutes can help reduce anxiety. Pixabay, public domain

Many of us have experienced the stomach pain, nausea, and dizziness of a panic attack, capable of hitting us at the most inconvenient and out-of-the-blue moments. If you’ve had panic attacks for a while, you’re probably well aware of their warning signs — and probably looking for new ways to handle them and take control of your life. To start, reducing anxiety can be as simple as focusing on your breathing, and this video from Anxiety in Order can help with that.

Breathing has always been a technique to bring people to a state of calm and meditation, and it’s employed during yoga to help people focus on the moment. But what exactly goes on in the body when we take deep breaths that helps our mental health? When we’re anxious, we experience a stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system and our fight-or-flight response, which is responsible for shallow breathing and an increase in the stress hormone, cortisol. But when we take deep breaths, our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) — which controls our body’s functions when we’re at rest — is activated, and this counters the stress response.

By controlling our breath, we can indirectly impact the other functions of our body that we can’t voluntarily control — like our cardiovascular, digestive, hormonal, and even immune systems. The video suggests that people should inhale through their nose and breathe in for 4-5 seconds, then exhale slowly through their mouth for 4-5 seconds.

There are other benefits to learning how to breathe well, including making eating more enjoyable, helping you fall asleep in under 60 seconds, and calming any type of stress response. And while consistent exercise, a healthy diet, social interactions, sleep hygiene, and cognitive behavioral therapy are all necessary to maintain mental health and fight off stress and anxiety, next time you’re on the train and experience a panic attack, start first with your breath. The rest can follow later.

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