Deep Breathing: Another Tool For Your Toolbox


One Saturday night in July, my youngest daughter came to me at 10:30 at night. She was a week out from going to camp for a week. She was in tears and saying that she did not want to go to camp. She was having a panic attack. I encouraged her to take some deep breaths (though she said that she couldn't breathe). I told her that if she couldn't breathe that she wouldn't be living. Truth is when you experience a panic attack you cannot think straight. Your thoughts are irrational and race a mile a minute. Your heart starts beating so fast that it feels as if it's going to jump out of your chest. Your breathing becomes fast and shallow. Your chest may feel like it is caving in from pressure. You feel out of control. You may feel like you're going to die. This is scary! There is a positive though...the panic attack will not last forever. It will end and we will be okay. Our body likes balance and we will return to a state of homeostasis, i.e., you will get through it. Where does deep breathing fit in? Deep breathing has many benefits. Research has shown that deep breathing helps to relax your body, lower your blood pressure, cleanses our body, and releases endorphins. It helps with stress management. Whether you deal with anxiety, anger, or stressed, deep breathing can help. So do we just wait to use the deep breathing when we are in the middle of a panic attack or our anger is through the roof? You can if you want, though this may not be the best option and due to emotions being so intense it will be difficult to bring this option to the fore front of our mind. "Be prepared" is the motto that I learned while in Boy Scouts and my boys learned in Cub Scouts. This is a good motto to live by. Being prepared can help us to respond to stress rather than reacting to it. Taking time daily to complete a deep breathing exercise can prepare us...to handle stresses, and manage our anxiety and anger. I encourage my patients to practice deep breathing exercises daily, and multiple times a day at that. What I teach is called the 4x4 method. It is a method that I came across one time and it simply made sense to me. It's a 4 second inhale thru your nose and a 4 second exhale thru your mouth for 4 minutes, and do this 4 times a day. I encouraged doing this right after waking, around lunch time, around supper time, and then prior to going to bed. This will help keep your Window of Tolerance wide. This is not a magic exercise by any means. It is not a cure-all. However it IS another tool for your toolbox. Just like you cannot use the same screwdriver for every job that needs a screwdriver, not every coping skill will work for every occasion. I encourage you to try this...try it for a week. Notice how you are feeling and managing your emotions and stress at the start of the week, and compare it to where you are at the end of the week. One last point that I would like to make is to remain open-minded. If you believe "this will never help", then it won't ever help. Be open that to the idea that it will help. Our mindset truly does make a difference. Whether you are dealing with depression, anxiety, anger, panic, alcoholism, or any other stresses, deep breathing can help.

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