Learning To Breathe Again
When we're in pain, stressed or anxious one thing that can happen is an increase in our breathing rate. This can often become a vicious cycle as our breathing increases we become more stressed and anxious and the experience of pain can become more intense. For many people practising breathing exercises can help them to regain control of an anxious or stressful situation and enable them to feel more in control of how they feel when experiencing pain and discomfort.
Following is a really simple breathing exercise that will help you become more aware of your breathing pattern and allow you to have more control over your breathing in times of stress.
Try the exercise for 2 to 3 minutes every day until it becomes easy to practise in any stressful situation. Once it has become routine and easy to do you'll find you only need to practise once or twice a week and whenever you are feeling pain, stress or anxiety.
- Breath slowly and deeply
- In through your nose and out through your mouth in a steady rhythm
- Try to make your out breath twice as long as your in breath
- It can be helpful to count slowly whilst breathing
- In: 1 2
- Out: 1 2 3 4
- Counting helps you see how your breathing has improved over time
Try to use your diaphragm muscles when you're doing this exercise, the diaphragm is a large flat parachute shaped muscle that sits below your lungs and is connected to your lower ribs all the way round from front to back. When the diaphragm contracts the muscle flattens increasing the space in the chest cavity and drawing the lungs downwards, this in turn draws air in to the lungs.
When we are stressed, anxious or in pain our body switches to using the emergency breathing muscles of the upper chest and neck, this is fine if it is really an emergency and we are running away from a Lion or other formidable beast wanting to eat us, but is not helpful when we've just had a stressful experience at home or work or are anxious or in pain.
When we breathe with our upper chest and neck muscles we don't breathe as deeply or draw air as fully in to our lungs and we tend to breathe faster and feel more breathless and anxious as a result.
To check you are breathing with your diaphragm, place your fingers on your sternum (breastbone) at the top of your abdomen. If you do a little cough you will feel this area push out a little, this is your diaphragm. If you continue to hold your hand there you should feel it slowly move in and out as you breathe.
Try to be as relaxed as possible when doing this exercise, sit in an upright but comfortable position or do the exercise lying down on the floor or your bed. Consciously try to let go of your shoulders and neck muscles so they start to relax and let your diaphragm do all the work of breathing, that's what it's made for!