Every Breath You Take…Proper breathing can help you manage your anxiety
Breathing is inextricably linked to anxiety. We have common sayings that reflect this relationship: “sigh of relief” and “holding your breath.” Now, two new neuroscience studies provide useful insight into how breathing can help you manage anxiety.
Meditation. Research published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry has confirmed that meditation consisting of slow, steady, rhythmic breathing can reduce people’s anxiety level. After completing a program consisting of 8-weeks of regular meditation, participants reported consistently lower anxiety. The researchers believe this change in experienced anxiety comes from a reduction in neural stress hormones. Many of my students report great benefits from meditation beyond reduced anxiety levels. A useful app to help guide you through meditation is called Head Space.
Breathing rate. Fascinating research from Northwestern’s Medical School has found that people experience greater anxiety when their breathing rate increases. Specifically, nasal inhalations, especially rapid ones, lead to greater anxiety. Interestingly, rapid breathing through the mouth does not have a similar effect. The thought is that inhaling through your nose stimulates olfactory nerves and the amygdala – the emotion-processing center of the brain. While not tested in this research, one implication would be to practice slowing down your breathing rate when confronted with anxiety provoking situations, such as giving a talk. Additionally, consciously breathing through your mouth should help reduce (or at least not increase) your anxiety level.
As the new year starts, reducing speaking anxiety is a great challenge to undertake. Why not start with some meditation and regulating your breathing?