The Power of a “Deep Exhale”

..Do you know the best way to gain control when you’re feeling overwhelmed, panicked, or in a state of catastrophic thinking?

Slow down your breathing.

Slowing down the pace of your breathing is one of the best ways to minimize anxiety and slow down run-away thinking.

In fact, your breath may be the only thing you feel like you can control when you feel anything but in control.

The most powerful thing about our breath is that we always have access to it. Anywhere and everywhere.

But there are a few key things that make it even more effective in calming anxiety.

#1 – Slowly inhale through your NOSE

When you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, it is really important that you inhale through your nose. Inhaling through your mouth can activate your sympathetic nervous system, which controls your flight-fight-freeze response. This signals your body that it needs to be in high alert.

Mouth inhales tend to be shorter, shallower, and limited to only the upper lungs, while nose inhales tend to be longer, deeper, and will often lead to belling breathing.

Give it a try right now….place one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly. Inhale through your mouth. Which hand do you feel rising?  Now inhale through your nose. Do you feel that on your other hand?

Deep belly breaths are the key to finding calm feelings quickly!

# 2 – Slowly exhale through your MOUTH

We all know to “take a deep breath in” when we’re trying to settle and relax, but deeply and slowly exhaling is equally – if not MORE important – to the process of calming our bodies and minds.

Deeply exhaling activates your body’s relaxation response, also known as the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the key to relaxation because it helps your heart rate slow down and it signals to your body that you are safe.

# 3 – Think of your Breath as a Cycle

There are four components to a complete cycle of breath.

  • The inhale.

  • The pause before we exhale.

  • The exhale.

  • The pause before we inhale again.

We can control the length of any of these points within the cycle, and slowing any of these points greatly impacts how quickly your anxiety will settle.

You can try counting your breaths and pauses to give your mind something to focus on.

Try this….

Inhale…count 1, 2, 3.

Hold….count 1, 2, 3.

Exhale….count 1, 2, 3.

Hold…count 1, 2. 3.

Exhaling for a count or two longer than your inhale is a powerful way to really engage your relaxation response and accelerate how quickly you feel calm again.

# 4 – Ride the Wave

Do you sometimes feel more anxious when you start to breathe slowly and mindfully? If so, you are not alone! I know many people who have experienced this – myself included. This happens because when we slow down our breathing, we often become more aware of the feelings we’re having in our body, including anxiety. This can feel scary but will likely subside after another breath or two if you keep breathing slowly.   

# 5 – Practice!

The more you practice breathing slowly and mindfully, the easier it will be. If you are counting the different components of your breath, you will also see that practice will lead to longer inhales, exhales, and pauses. The slower you can go, the more peace you will feel.