Feeling Anxious? Breathe

Published on June 23, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

It’s late at night, and, after getting ready for bed, the moment arrives when you should drift off to sleep. You’ve been tired all day. Earlier, you couldn’t wait to get some shut-eye when you were working. So why is sleep suddenly unattainable?

There are many reasons our brains do this. Anxiety ripples through the stream of consciousness at seemingly inopportune times. Depression floods the psyche with doubt, and that relaxing moment we have been awaiting is drowned out by the noise of our own uncontrollable thoughts. We begin straining to fall asleep, tossing and turning the sheets into knots. The harder we try, the more powerless we become to battling the current of restlessness.

In these moments, connect to your breath. Simple breathing exercises can reassert the control with which we operate our bodies and in turn our thoughts. Showering our systems with breath and oxygenated blood reverses panic responses, restoring the homeostasis our bodies crave.

Those in recovery build up anxious and depressive thoughts throughout the day as a coping mechanism. In the past, these thoughts may have led to self-medication with alcohol and/or substance use. As a result, one reason depressive and anxious thoughts persist during recovery is to trigger the brain’s reward complex, which is effectively overwhelmed during addiction. If you are experiencing concentrated instances of anxiety, consider finding opportunities to practice mindful breathing.

Breathe Correctly

Very few people breathe correctly throughout the day. This can be due to stress, distraction, or simply because it becomes an afterthought for most people. Our lives can feel like they are overflowing with tasks to tend to, so it makes sense that remembering to focus on our breath can be forgotten. Actively recognizing how we breathe can have massive benefits for our minds and health in general.

A helpful way to clear your airway is an exercise known as alternate nose breathing. This consists of reaching your arm over the top of your head, allowing your fingers to press the outside of the opposite nostril—put your right hand on the left nostril and vice versa—sealing one side of your nose. Inhale through the open nostril, before switching to seal the other nostril, exhaling through the side which had previously been closed. The exercise can then be repeated by inhaling through the same side you just used to exhale.

This simple exercise opens our airways and lungs, influencing the body’s involuntary breathing functions. Starting or ending the day with this exercise encourages the healthy circulation of oxygenated blood to the brain, and the hypothalamus gland, which facilitates endorphin and neurotransmitter equilibrium within the body. Spending five minutes to do practice mindful breathing goes a long way towards reducing stress and mediating healthy brain function.

Count Your Breath

High anxiety interrupts one’s ability to remain grounded in the present moment. Even when an effort is made to practice mindful breathing and meditation, erroneous thoughts demand our attention. The thought experiment, “don’t think of a pink elephant,” shows how actively attempting to ignore a thought only makes us think of the thought more. Rather than spending the effort to completely clear the mind when connecting to your breath, focus on something separate.

An easy way to start is by matching the length of your inhales and your exhales. This may seem simple, yet it opens the door to self-awareness while slowing your resting heart rate. From here you can begin to count beats in your mind, almost like you would if you were measuring bars in music. Inhale for eight beats, hold for eight beats, and exhale for eight beats. This active counting will allow anxious thoughts to gradually recede, as you focus on the breath happening in the present moment.

Bring Mindful Breathing Into Your Routine

Since we are continuously breathing, the connection to breath can assist you whenever you are feeling the swells of anxiety. Thoughtful breathing can benefit decision making, clarity in communication, as well as cardiovascular health when partnered with regular exercise. It is easy to forget about the sustenance of the air around us, but as a resource, it’s essential to our mental and physical health.

Those managing alcohol and/or substance use disorders can experience immense stress relief from mindful breathing. Particularly when done before going to sleep, breathing exercises can also improve the quality of rest experienced, by influencing those involuntary muscle patterns. Conscious breathers also experience pain management benefits, due to the circulation of oxygenated blood healing overexerted muscles, organs, and tissue.

Breathing is one of the easiest ways to support our recovery. First responders, in particular, can benefit from cycling out stale air and replacing it with oxygen-rich deposits. Choosing to breathe is choosing life over decay. Give your body the gift of healthy lungs and a tranquil mind.

We have seen the benefits of breathing exercises through recovery treatment. It helps clients hone their mindfulness of deep-seated issues preventing them from addressing suppressed emotion and trauma without drugs or alcohol. Simple Recovery offers clients the opportunity to participate in Breathworks, which is a therapy geared to reconnect with our diaphragm, lungs, and the air that sustains us. Breathworks is a simple breathing technique that assists in processing trauma, developing more positive thought patterns, and creating a new perspective on old beliefs and behaviors. This technique involves a unique two-stage rhythm that calms the brain and allows clients to experience a more tangible connection to their bodies. Every session takes place within a therapeutic environment, to keep clients safe and supported as they breathe. If you or your loved ones are ready to begin recovery lung-first, please call our admissions staff at (866) 399-6528.