How to Breathe Through an Anxiety Attack
02 Mar

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anxiety breathing

If you are having an anxiety attack, just sit down, and focus either on these words, or if you already know the instructions, find an object near to you to focus your eyes on, then being breathing consciously. Do not worry about the breathing technique you use, it is only important to breathe now, no matter how.

I. Just breathe (15 steps)

  1. Inhale slowly through your nose, deeply, but not as deep as you can
  2. Exhale through your mouth, without holding your breath, at least as slow as you inhaled, or slower
  3. Pause for one second
  4. Inhale through your nose again, as slow and deep as before
  5. Exhale through your mouth, without holding your breath, as slow, or slower than you have inhaled
  6. Pause for one second
  7. Inhale once more through your nose, slowly
  8. Exhale through your mouth, without holding your breath, try to make it slower than your inhalation was
  9. Pause for one second
  10. Now inhale through your nose, and try to make it slower and deeper than before
  11. Exhale through your mouth, without holding your breath, even slower than you inhaled just now
  12. Pause for one second
  13. Inhale through your nose,, again slower and deeper than previously
  14. Exhale through your mouth, without holding your breath, slower and deeper than you inhaled.
  15. Pause for one second, then proceed with the next steps

II. Count your breathing (15 steps)

  1. Say out loud, or quietly in your mind: "Ten", then inhale deeply and slowly though your nose, focusing on the inhalation.
  2. Say "Nine", then exhale deeply and slowly though your mouth, focusing on the exhalation
  3. Pause for one second
  4. Say "Eight", then inhale deeply and slowly though your nose, focusing on the inhalation
  5. Say "Seven", then exhale deeply and slowly though your mouth, focusing on the exhalation
  6. Pause for one second
  7. Say "Six", then inhale deeply and slowly though your nose, focusing on the inhalation
  8. Say "Five", then exhale deeply and slowly though your mouth, focusing on the exhalation
  9. Pause for one second
  10. Say "Four", then inhale deeply and slowly though your nose, focusing on the inhalation
  11. Say "Three", then exhale deeply and slowly though your mouth, focusing on the exhalation
  12. Pause for one second
  13. Say "Two", then inhale deeply and slowly though your nose, focusing on the inhalation
  14. Say "One", then exhale deeply and slowly though your mouth, focusing on the exhalation
  15. Pause for one second, then start again from step 1, repeat until you feel calmer.

III. Visualise anxiety leaving your body (15 steps)

  1. Say out loud, or quietly in your mind: "Ten", then inhale deeply and slowly though your nose, and imagine as fresh air enters your body
  2. Say "Nine", then exhale deeply and slowly though your mouth, and imagine anxiety leaves your body though your mouth
  3. Pause for one second
  4. Say "Eight", then inhale deeply and slowly though your nose, focusing on the inhalation
  5. Say "Seven", then exhale deeply and slowly though your mouth, focusing on the exhalation
  6. Pause for one second
  7. Say "Six", then inhale deeply and slowly though your nose, focusing on the inhalation
  8. Say "Five", then exhale deeply and slowly though your mouth, focusing on the exhalation
  9. Pause for one second
  10. Say "Four", then inhale deeply and slowly though your nose, focusing on the inhalation
  11. Say "Three", then exhale deeply and slowly though your mouth, focusing on the exhalation
  12. Pause for one second
  13. Say "Two", then inhale deeply and slowly though your nose, focusing on the inhalation
  14. Say "One", then exhale deeply and slowly though your mouth, focusing on the exhalation
  15. Pause for one second, then start again from step 1.

Repeat until you feel calm enough to manage your anxiety, or until your anxiety is gone.

About this guide

The above guide is meant to be a quick and easy way to counter and manage a sudden onset of anxiety attack. Breathing is quickly accessible, is always available, so learning to rely on it as your source of calm, or a firm ground to hol donto while managing attacks, would mean you always have a tool you can use right there, that is freely available.

The inspiration to write this guide was a Quora question, where the poster asked for a practical guide to rea, while having an attack, so that they don't have to scroll through pages of useless information on Google each time they needed one. For that reason, all the usual introduction, and long paragraphs were omitted from the beginning, and the guide starts right where you want to begin.

Explaining the steps

The guide is divided into three sections, each representing a new, more advanced level, you can proceed to, once you feel comfortable with what yo are doing.

Section I, "Just breathe" is what you initially want to do. These are the first steps of regaining control. You need not repeat these 15 steps more than once. Just go through them, and then proceed to the next section.

Section II, "Count your breathing" should guide you through counting your breaths backwards from 10. Counting backwards and focusing on your breath will occupy your mind and help ease your thoughts, while at the same time activating cognitive brain areas that might have been shut down by the attack. If you find it too easy, or that it does not occupy your mind sufficiently, you can count from a higher starting number, like 20 or 100. You can keep repeating these 15 steps as many times as you need, until your anxiety subsides somewhat. It is then up to you if you keep breathing on this level, or proceed to section III.

Section III, "Visualise anxiety leaving your body" will introduce an even more difficult task. Now you have to count backwards, and use your "mind's eye" at the same time, giving your brain quite a bit of work to do, which would help direct your attention away form the cause of your anxiety even further. How you visualise your anxiety leaving your body and mind, is up to you. You can make it look like smoke, or bubbles, or even liquid, whatever feels natural will be equally sufficient.

How to make the most of this guide

To make it always accessible, it's best to bookmark this page in all your browsers, if it has a bookmarks toolbar, make sure it shows up there. Most smartphones will allow you to add internet pages to the home screen as a shortcut. Doing so would mean the guide could always be in your pocket, one click away.

While this guide offers instant help, you might be interested in a longer term solution of managing stress (often a cause of anxiety) through breathing. Read the article Learn Instant Stress Management With This Simple Breathing Technique, practice the technique described there regularly, and your anxiety might come to bother you less often.

If you know anyone, who suffers from anxiety, and might find this guide useful, please do not hesitate to share it with them. Also, as people don't always talk about their anxiety problems, your can probably help others,who would not come forward and talk about their problem with sharing this page on social media, allowing such friends and acquaintances to find it easily.

Photo credit: theaucitron via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

About the author

Attila has been practising traditional meditation, QiGong and breathing techniques since early childhood. Not pretending to be a guru, or an enlightened being of any sort, his aim is to transmit what he has learned through these years, for everyone's benefit.

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