Why do therapists, physicians, even your best friends tell you to “slow down and take a deep breath” when you’re anxious and upset?
They know what your body knows: intentional deep, calming breath settles the emotion, clears the mind, and soothes the body.
The breath is our built-in tool for calm and self-correction. You become present, feel safe, and behave in a less reactionary manner.
In my last post, “The Value of Turning Inward When Managing Anxiety and Emotional Trauma,” I’ve discussed how turning inward can assist in healing emotional trauma causing anxiety. In this post, we’ll explore how a calming breath also aids the treatment of anxiety due to a traumatic experience and how it is connected to turning inwards.
Why Deep Breaths Matter
As we discussed in my previous blog, the ability to tune out the external world and connect with our inner wants, needs, and desires is vital. Being able to access a place inside yourself that is aware, encouraging, and at peace makes recovery from anxiety caused by emotional trauma much more possible.
Deep breathing is a gateway to that inner place.
Using a calming breath to heal and facilitate awareness taps into both the calming, steadying aspects of Eastern practices like yoga and Tai Chi, as well as the most positive and supportive characteristics of Western psychotherapy for effective relief.
Deep breathing is a way to support emotional stabilization with your therapist. In addition, it provides a coping skill that you can employ quickly on your own to improve the quality of everyday functioning immediately and successfully.
How to Breathe Effectively
Various therapies use similar breathwork techniques. The primary idea is to breathe deeply into the body, paying attention to each breath and noticing the depth and rate of inhalation and exhalation.
The practice is controlled and straightforward. Just what you need when traumatic memories, unproductive or harmful thoughts, and anxiety drain your energy, upset the nervous system, and threaten to keep your breaths panicked or shallow.
With the affirmation and guidance of your therapist, you can slow down anxious thoughts, negative rumination, or toxic beliefs with deep breathing. You can examine them and challenge them with a clearer mind and release them from your body and conscious awareness.
This is an important means to help an individuals develop emotional resilience and promote well-being. A powerful realization that demonstrate to you that you are strong, secure, grounded, and in charge of your own body and mind.
As you breathe and calm sets in, you can also take charge of your present thoughts and responses, replacing negativity with more self-compassion and comforting thoughts. You’ll also find that you become increasingly able to accept a more positive, realistic view of yourself and your life as it is, instead of remaining tied to the chaotic, anxious thoughts connected to past traumatic experiences or dreadful worries about the future.
Mindful Attention to the Breath Helps Make Healing Possible
In recent years, research revealed that we tend to focus less internally and more externally. Unless, of course, there is a serious problem. In other words, it’s only when we experience extreme discomfort that we pay the most attention internally.
Therefore, we often don’t recognize emotions as they arise. Instead, we feel surprised or overwhelmed by deep pain, explosive rage, or intense sadness.
Lamentably, shallow breathing has become a part of our modern lifestyle, with proven negative consequences to our health.
Conversely, in and out of therapy, using deep breathing helps promote internal attention and allows us relief from the things outside ourselves that keep us feeling stuck. In fact, calming breath practices can alleviate the need to find comfort in poor coping choices like alcohol, excessive eating, or drug use.
As Bessel van der Kolk noted: “Learning how to breathe calmly and remaining in a state of relative physiological relaxation, even while accessing painful and horrifying memories, is an essential tool to recovery.”
And Dr. Richard Brown observed that “when you take slow, steady breaths, your brain gets the message that all is well and activates the parasympathetic response.”
Clearly, deep breathing as a means to support therapeutic treatment is invaluable.
It can help release you from persistent external judgments and your own negative self-perception based on past traumatic events. And you can learn to relax at any moment, directly tapping into increased bodily awareness and self-acceptance as you learn to manage anxiety.
Essentially, on your way to recovery from anxiety caused by trauma, the calming breath can be an important part of developing a new, empowered sense of yourself, providing healthier coping skills for a brighter future.
For more information about my approach to anxiety therapy, please click on the link.