Why is Breathing SO Important During Anxiety Attacks?

I know, I know, YAWN. I’m sure you’ve heard a million times over that you should just “breathe” when anxiety gets to be too much.

Well ladies and ladies, there’s a scientific reason why taking deep breaths can work wonders on calming down any anxiety you’re feeling. 

First, a little background on the ole brain during an anxiety attack. Our brain’s first and most important job is to Keep. Us. Safe. This means any time our brains think we’re under attack (even if it’s just an emotional attack), it immediately sends chemicals and warning signs all over our body in preparation for said attack.

This response happens within a couple of seconds – physiologically, it can be interpreted as the “flight or fight” scenario you’ve also heard about a million times. During this reaction, the heart beats faster, our breath shortens in anticipation of needing to reserve resources (for the possible upcoming fight), and we may feel cramps in our arms and legs, in addition to chest pains, as the body is speeding up to get the hell out of dodge.

Labored, stressed breathing in this moment means the brain isn’t getting all the oxygen it needs, so our brain is also panicking (seems counterintuitive, right?). Our body’s response is purposeful, but in this instance it’s overkill, as we’re not fighting off a saber tooth tiger.

This is where breathing comes in. Taking some deep breaths during this stress attack sends a message to your brain to CALM THE HECK DOWN. 

Deep breathing of this sort transmits receptors to your body that say, “OK, it’s going to be fine, get a grip.” The receptors then slow your heart rate and help the chemicals dissipate so you can return to your normally scheduled program of living. 

So, taking 10-20 deep breaths when you’re losing your stuff really can be beneficial and calming. Next time you’re freaking out, try it and see how much better you feel in a short amount of time! Remember, breathing is a skill to keep in your toolbox that you can do anywhere, anytime.

For more information, visit EmpoweredConnections.net.

DEBORAH DULEY is a licensed social worker in the state of Maryland. She has a BS in social work from Bowie State University and a Masters of Social Work from Howard University, Washington DC, as well as thousands of clinical hours and continuing education. She is a certified Stepfamily Foundation Counselor and is ASIST trained in suicide intervention. In addition Deborah is trained in divorce and custody mediation. Deborah is the founder and owner of the counseling practice Empowered Connections LLC, located in the heart of Leonardtown Maryland and the facilitator of her new therapy program “10 Sessions to Better Self-Esteem.” Deborah has over 25 years of experience working with women in many capacities such as activist, domestic violence counselor, and crisis interventionist. As the “women’s therapist,” she is passionate about working with women and teen girls. She integrates her knowledge of mental health issues and her life experiences to assist them in increasing their self-esteem, decrease anxiety & depression symptoms and tackle a whole host of personal issues that women struggle with.