A panic attack is a sudden feeling of intense fear triggered by no apparent reason, with symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, nausea, dizziness, tremors and numbness. The predominant symptom, however, is rapid or deep breathing, also known as hyperventilation.
Training yourself to control your breathing will help you calm down quickly and reduce anxiety levels. Breathing exercises work by breaking the obsessive pattern of thinking that is common during panic attacks and focus on reducing the rate and depth of your breaths.
Here are three breathing exercises that can rescue you the next time anxiety threatens to overtake.
1. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Re-breathing
Hyperventilation results in excessive loss of carbon dioxide from the body. Re-breathing can restore its levels and reduce the symptoms. Cup your hands over your mouth and breathe slowly or use a paper bag.
For This Technique: Cover your nose and mouth, and continue breathing normally to get as much CO2 in your lungs as possible. Do it for no more than four to five minutes.
2. Alternate Nostril Breathing
Popularly known as Nadhi Sodhana, this breathing technique imparts calm and balance to relieve anxiety symptoms. The alternate breaths between the two nostrils is thought to unite the left (logical) and right (emotional) sides of the brain. This can play an important part in fighting the fear.
For This Technique: Start in a comfortable meditative pose with an erect spine and relaxed shoulders. Hold the right thumb over the right nostril and inhale deeply through the left nostril. When you can’t inhale any more, close the left nostril with your ring finger and exhale slowly through your right nostril. Continue the pattern by inhaling through the right nostril and exhaling from the left one.
3. Belly Breathing
This breathing technique makes use of the abdomen and diaphragm instead of the chest and shoulders. It can reinforce patterns of relaxed breathing which can maintain carbon dioxide levels in the blood.
For This Technique: With one hand on the chest and the other on the abdomen, breathe slowly and deeply through your nose. Your chest should expand very little during this exercise. Ensure the diaphragm inflates with enough air to expand the lungs. Exhale slowly through the mouth. A 10-minute routine can improve the heart rate variability and reduce blood pressure, thus alleviating symptoms.
Breathing exercises can help you cope with most anxiety symptoms, and also instill a calm and relaxed state of mind to prevent recurrence of panic attacks.