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STEP 3 (GAD): Practice Your Breathing Skills II

Natural Breathing

Learn breathing skills - natural breathing, calming breathing, calming counts - to better deal with symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).The first breathing skill is called Natural Breathing, or abdominal breathing. In fact, this is a good way to breathe all day long, unless you are involved in physical activity. In other words, you should practice breathing this way all day long, since it provides for sufficient oxygen intake and controls the exhalation of carbon dioxide.

It's very simple and it goes like this:

Gently and slowly inhale a normal amount of air through your nose, filling your lower lungs. Then exhale easily. You might first try it with one hand on your stomach and one on your chest. As you inhale gently, your lower hand should rise while your upper hand stays still. Continue this gentle breathing pattern with a relaxed attitude, concentrating on filling only the lower lungs.

Natural Breathing

  1. Gently and slowly inhale a normal amount of air through your nose, filling only your lower lungs. (Your stomach will expand while your upper chest remains still.)
  2. Exhale easily.
  3. Continue this gentle breathing pattern with a relaxed attitude, concentrating on filling only the lower lungs.

As you see, this breathing pattern is opposite of that which comes automatically during anxious moments. Instead of breathing rapidly and shallowly into the upper lungs, which expands the chest, you breathe gently into the lower lungs, expanding the abdomen.

Calming Breath

The second technique is deep diaphragmatic breathing and can be used during times when you are feeling anxious or panicky. It is a powerful way to control hyperventilation, slow a rapid heartbeat and promote physical comfort. For this reason we will call it the Calming Breath.

Here's how it goes:

Calming Breath

  1. Take a long, slow breath in through your nose, first filling your lower lungs, then your upper lungs.
  2. Hold your breath to the count of "three."
  3. Exhale slowly through pursed lips, while you relax the muscles in your face, jaw, shoulders, and stomach.

Practice this Calming Breath at least ten times a day for several weeks. Use it during times of transition, between projects or whenever you want to let go of tension and begin to experience a sense of calmness. This will help you become familiar and comfortable with the process.

And use it any time you begin to feel anxiety or panic building. When you need a tool to help you calm down during panic, you will be more familiar and comfortable with the process.

Calming Counts

The third technique is called Calming Counts. It has two benefits over Calming Breath.

First, it takes longer to complete: about 90 seconds instead of 30 seconds. You will be spending that time concentrating on a specific task instead of paying so much attention to your worried thoughts. If you can let time pass without such intense focus on your fearful thoughts, you will have a better chance at controlling those thoughts.

Second, Calming Counts, like Natural Breathing and the Calming Breath, help access the Calming Response. That means you will be giving yourself 90 seconds to cool your body out and quiet your thoughts. Then, after that time has passed, you will less anxious than you were.

Here's how this skill works:

Calming Counts

  1. Sit comfortably.
  2. Take a long, deep breath and exhale it slowly while saying the word "relax" silently.
  3. Close your eyes.
  4. Let yourself take ten natural, easy breaths. Count down with each exhale, starting with "ten."
  5. This time, while you are breathing comfortably, notice any tensions, perhaps in your jaw or forehead or stomach. Imagine those tensions loosening.
  6. When you reach "one," open your eyes again.

next: Step 4: Practice Your Breathing Skills
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APA Reference
Writer, H. (2009, January 9). STEP 3 (GAD): Practice Your Breathing Skills II, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, October 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/anxiety-panic/articles/gad-practice-your-breathing-skills-2

Last Updated: June 30, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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