In this guide, we will discuss Deep breathing makes anxiety worse and why it is common to have breathing problems when having anxiety.
Also, we will see how to perform a deep breathing exercise, how effective (or not) it could be, and why some experts won’t recommend deep breathing as a solution to reduce anxiety symptoms.
Deep breathing makes anxiety worse?
Why would deep breathing make anxiety worse? Well, some people manifest how deep breathing is not really useful for them and seems to make things worse.
When we experience symptoms of anxiety or a panic attack, you may have noticed how your breathing pattern changes and you start desperately trying to breathe faster in order to get the desired effect, more oxygen to avoid feeling like you are choking or about to die.
However, in many cases, if we analyze the breathing pattern, we will evidence predominantly how most people seem to breathe with their chest instead of engaging the lower lungs and their diaphragm.
But why does this happen? Well, it is the way our body redirects the oxygen our blood cells and muscles need to eventually fight or flight from a potentially dangerous situation.
In addition, you may have felt how your heart started racing, making you feel as if you were having a panic attack, the shortness of breath, the dizziness, chest pain, hot/cold sensation, sweaty hands, flustered cheeks, among other physical symptoms.
These symptoms could appear at some specific moments, such as presenting in front of a crowd or when meeting people, which can be a very scary, stressful, or frightening experience for many people suffering from anxiety.
However, in this type of situation, you may have heard countless times “just breathe” or “Take a deep breath” but this is not a magic solution or will immediately stop an anxiety or panic attack.
Moreover, deep breathing seems to make things worse for some people since it becomes evident that they don’t really know what ‘deep breathing’ means.
Why is this? When we have an anxiety or panic attack our body goes into an ‘alert mode’ which results in shallow breathing or what we know as shortness of breath.
Let’s take a look at why you could be having breathing problems when you experience an anxiety or panic attack.
Why do I have breathing problems with anxiety?
Symptoms may vary from one person to the other, but most people would agree that shortness of breath or rapid breathing is one of the most common symptoms they experience.
Other symptoms such as restlessness, irritability, inability to concentrate or insomnia, may not be experienced by everyone.
Moreover, the symptoms may become more or less severe or intense, and some people may experience some or all of them.
In contrast, as we have mentioned, breathing seems to be one of the most common problems among people with anxiety.
This is why experts recommend doing breathing exercises, specifically deep breathing.
When someone is having an anxiety or panic attack they tend to engage the upper lungs and the chest, this is why it is called chest or thoracic breathing.
Subsequently, the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide gets disrupted and we start experiencing shortness of breath or rapid breathing. The other type of breathing is deep breathing or diaphragmatic breathing. Let’s take a look at a deep breathing exercise.
Deep breathing exercise
Deep breathing exercises may or may not help you feel anxious, there are actually divided opinions.
However, if you do decide to give it a try, here is how to do it:
- Find a comfortable place where there is support for your head. It can be your favorite chair or your bed.
- Put one hand in your chest just below the collar bone and the other on top of your stomach.
- Breathe in through your nose slowly and count until three initially and then you can change it to four, five, even six seconds. Notice how the hand on top of your stomach starts to move while you breathe and the other one stays still.
- Breathe in and out feeling as if there was a balloon in your belly inflating. You may feel a bit dizzy at first but it is normal.
- Hold the air for three seconds and inhale on the count of three as well releasing it slowly through pursed lips.
- Repeat as many times as you want.
Through deep breathing the amount of oxygen that goes into your cells increases, in addition, you could lower your blood pressure, reduce the heart rate, relax your muscles, and may help you in moments of distress.
Moreover, deep breathing exercises can be combined with mindful meditation. There are plenty of youtube videos with guided meditation you could use when performing the exercises.
However, if you start trying the deep breathing technique and it is making you feel more anxious or worse, stop and you can try again at a later time.
As we have mentioned previously, there are divided opinions. As indicated by Diana Wells from healthline.com, “There is ongoing research into the effectiveness of deep breathing for anxiety and stress. Some researchTrusted Source shows that deep breathing — and even sighing — brings relief to people with both low and high sensitivity to anxiety.”
However, we will also take a look at the opposite idea where experts indicate how deep breathing seems to make anxiety worse.
Why some experts won’t recommend deep breathing
Some experts will indicate that deep breathing can worsen the symptoms of someone having a panic attack, this is why a new treatment has been proposed to treat the symptoms of a panic attack by getting patients to breathe less.
This is a totally different approach when treating the feeling of suffocating or the shortness of breath that comes with panic attacks.
As indicated by Stephanie Pappas from livescience.com, “The treatment, which involves a technique for altering your breathing, is more effective at alleviating both short-term panic disorder symptoms and hyperventilation than traditional psychological therapy, and it may make people less prone to panic attacks in the first place, said study leader Alicia Meuret of Southern Methodist University in Dallas.”
This new treatment is called capnometry-assisted respiratory training or CART. Meuret indicates how deep breathing during a panic attack when someone is hyperventilating may not be a good idea.
This is based on the fact that, whenever someone is hyperventilating, people tend to breathe too quickly and deeply that they tend to expel a high amount of carbon dioxide, which can result in the symptoms of numbness and feeling dizzy.
Subsequently, in their trials with patients suffering from panic attacks, they found how the treatment seems to be effective when normalizing the baseline levels of carbon dioxide in the blood makes people less prone to hyperventilating, helping them to ‘reverse’ the attack.
Why is this blog about Deep breathing makes anxiety worse important?
As we have discussed, there are divided opinions in terms of how deep breathing seems to make anxiety worse.
However, we need to be aware of how we are breathing when anxiety kicks in and how we should breathe normally.
It is believed most anxiety sufferers seem to have breathing problems, shortness of breath being one of the most common symptoms reported.
Moreover, differentiating between thoracic breathing and deep breathing could make a huge difference when trying to change our breathing pattern while having an attack.
However, don’t force yourself into it, and don’t be discouraged if this doesn’t seem to work for you. Keep trying, there are plenty of useful techniques that can help you cope with anxiety.
Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Deep breathing makes anxiety worse
Can deep breathing cause anxiety?
Deep breathing doesn’t cause anxiety. What causes anxiety to get worse is chest breathing since it upsets the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your body.
This is why it is important to differentiate between superficial or shallow breathing and deep breathing.
However, if you have tried to do deep breathing exercises and they haven’t worked for you, don’t be discouraged, keep trying.
Why does deep breathing make me anxious?
Is it nos deep breathing what makes you anxious, if you notice, your breathing rate increases but you are only engaging your chest when breathing which means you don’t get enough oxygen into your lungs because the breathing pattern becomes superficial and shallow.
Deep breathing can be experienced when you involve your diaphragm.
Can deep breathing be harmful?
Deep breathing is not considered harmful, on the contrary.
However, many people misunderstand the concept of deep breathing or how to even implement deep breathing techniques.
When we do it properly, it is very relaxing and can help reduce your anxiety and stress levels.
However, don’t force yourself into it if deep breathing doesn’t seem to help you reduce anxiety symptoms.
How do you take deep breaths with anxiety?
To take deep breaths when you feel anxious it is important to engage your diaphragm.
In order for you to learn how to do this, place your hand on your chest and the other one in your belly.
When you inhale, take the air to your diaphragm and feel how the hand you have placed on your stomach starts to move instead of the one in your chest.
Exhale slowly and notice how your hand moves when you let the air out.
Keep breathing for a few minutes while keeping a steady rhythm.
How long can an anxiety attack last?
On average, an anxiety attack usually peaks within 10 minutes but they can last up to 30 minutes, which is considered rare.
During this time you may feel overwhelmed with the feeling you are about to die, so it can be a very frightening situation.
However, you may perceive you may have been having an attack for more than 10 or 30 mins.
Remind yourself it is just temporary, it will pass.
Pappas, S. (2010, Dec.) To Stave Off Panic, Don’t Take a Deep Breath. Retrieved from livescience.com.
Wells, D. (2020, Mar.) Anxiety: Breathing Problems and Exercises. Retrieved from healthline.com.