Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems in the world. Affecting 8 million people in the UK alone, it’s safe to say that most of us have experienced some form of overwhelming worry at one stage in our lives.
At The Glass House, we’re dedicated to helping you discover a fresh sense of mental nourishment on our Wellness Retreat. When it comes to managing anxiety, there isn’t a one size fits all method. But there are a few small actions we recommend, helping you achieve a happier, healthier and stress-free version of you: a balanced diet, mindfulness, regular exercise. Including the healing practice of breathwork for anxiety.
That’s right. By adding just ten to twenty minutes of deep breathing into your daily routine, you can reduce your anxiety tremendously.
But how does it work? And what are the benefits of breathwork for anxiety?
A job interview, a first date, work, family difficulties, money troubles. Perhaps even one too many coffees. There isn’t a single defining cause for anxiety. It can range from mild to severe and affects everyone differently. We will often experience it at any given moment, sometimes without any logical rhyme or reason.
And unfortunately, it has more of an impact on the body than we may realise. Fatigue. Stomach problems. Difficulty sleeping. Headaches. High blood pressure. The list goes on. But what exactly causes that all-consuming feeling of panic and despair that so many of us are familiar with?
When we feel threatened or triggered by an external stimulus, our body goes into fight or flight mode. The brain assumes we’re in danger, so to protect us, it sends a wave of adrenaline throughout the body. Your senses sharpen, your heart rate increases and your ability to think clearly rationally plummets.
Once the threat is no longer immediate, the sympathetic nervous system takes over and brings us back to a peaceful state. Anxiety occurs when we’re unable to return to that peaceful state of mind as quickly. This leads to sleepless nights, restlessness, racing thoughts and an overwhelming sense of discomfort.
And this is where breathwork for anxiety comes in...
Breathwork for anxiety and general worry was a practice used by the ancient shamanic tribesmen and Tibetan monks to Kate Middleton and Oprah Winfrey, the healing properties of deep breathing have been praised for centuries. If you’ve ever been to a yoga class or downloaded a guided meditation app, you’ll have more than likely participated in some form of breathwork.
The practice has seeped into modern wellness trends over time due to the likes of influencers such as James Nestor and Patrick McKewon, who’ve demonstrated the benefits to deep breathing when performed regularly. Better sleep, lower blood pressure, higher energy levels, better digestion, and, of course, reduced anxiety.
Originating from Eastern practices such as Tai Chi, yoga and Buddhism, breathwork for anxiety involves the use of deep or rapid breathing exercises designed to boost mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing. Although it has been around for thousands of years, it wasn’t until the 1960s that it made its name in Western society. This was thanks to the work of Leonard Orr and Stanislav Grof, who invented rebirthing breathwork and holotropic breathwork.
Both methods both lie on opposite sides of the breathwork spectrum, which can be divided into two categories: chest breathing and diaphragmatic breathing. Whilst chest breathing – also known as fast breathing - is ideal for stimulating adrenaline and making you feel more alert, the practice of deep, diaphragmatic breathing is generally recommended for anxiety and relaxation.
The action of breathing deeply allows more air to enter your lungs, which is scientifically proven to reduce mild to persistent anxiety. The part of the body that causes us to feel frightened or worried – also known as the sympathetic nervous system – becomes less active when we take deep breaths, allowing us to suppress the fight or flight response. When we breathe deeply, it’s almost as if we’re shifting the volume on our anxious thoughts to quieten them, allowing us to think clearly and feel more at ease.
Breathwork for anxiety is powerful for stronger sensations of fear and worry, like panic attacks or episodes of hyperventilation. When we’re in a state of panic, we tend to take quicker, shallower breaths. This disrupts the flow of oxygen being pumped around the body, resulting in a faster heart rate, dizziness and other unwanted side effects.
Breathwork counteracts this by forcing you to focus on a pattern of breathing, expanding your lungs fully and ultimately allowing you to regain a sense of control over your mind and body.
Without further ado, here are a few of our favourite breathwork exercises you can try to help manage anxiety:
Belly breathing is one of the most effective forms of breathwork for anxiety. When we practice belly breathing, the diaphragm contracts and forces the lungs to pull in more oxygen, whereas our normal, autonomous breathing pattern is typically much shallower.
Regular belly breathing lowers blood pressure, strengthens the diaphragm and tells the nervous system to relax by reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
When faced with high levels of anxiety, try to seat yourself comfortably (or lie down if you can) and position one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. Inhale slowly through the nose and feel your stomach rise. Hold for two seconds and exhale slowly through the mouth for a further six seconds, releasing any built-up tension in the body.
The hand on your chest should be still, neither rising or falling as you inhale or exhale. Repeat until you regain a sense of control and feel your anxiety begin to melt away.
Ideal for sleepless nights, the 4-7-8 method requires little effort and is designed to transport the body into a state of rest. This is the breathing method often used in our Glass House breathwork sessions.
The technique is based on the ancient pranayama technique, widely used in yogic practices to take control of the breath. It is one of the most powerful ways to use breathwork for anxiety. Soothe yourself to sleep by inhaling gently through the nose for four seconds, then holding that breath for seven seconds. Release the breath through the mouth for a further eight seconds and feel yourself drift away as you repeat.
By focusing on your counting, your mind will be less active and you will find it easier to push the anxious thoughts to the side. You may want to consider playing some relaxing instrumental music or spritzing a sleep mist onto your pillow to help you fully switch off.
If you’ve ever come across those funny looking mouth tapes designed to prevent snoring and mouth breathing, there’s a surprisingly effective explanation behind them. It’s believed that breathing through the nose not only helps with asthma and sleep quality, but it’s also a highly effective form of breathwork for managing anxiety.
When we breathe through our mouth, we tend to ‘overbreathe’, altering the carbon dioxide levels in the blood. Low CO2 levels lead to panic attacks and hyperventilation, which are common in anxiety suffers.
The Buteyko Breathing Technique – which involves a series of nasal breathwork exercises – is recommended to combat this and alleviate symptoms of anxiety. One Buteyko exercise you can try is the control pause. The technique is designed to quiet the mind, improve lung function and lower the heart rate.
Find a quiet place to sit with your legs crossed, straighten your back and take two deep breaths in and out through the nose. Hold your breath for five seconds before breathing normally for a further ten seconds, relaxing into your body as you do so. Repeat for two to three minutes until you feel your anxiety begin to ease.
Thinking of incorporating some breathwork for anxiety into your daily routine? At the Glass House, we’re here to help.
Join us for an immersive rest and relaxation break with access to guided relaxation, mental wellbeing sessions and breathing workshops designed to help you unwind and melt away your stress.
We’ll teach you how to use and incorporated breathwork for anxiety into your life so you can worry less and thrive more. t