Panic attacks are an anxiety disorder that feels like a physical disorder. It occurs when your mind convinces itself that there is something seriously wrong with your body, and it often leads to a combination of issues, including trouble controlling your heart rate, shortness of breath, feelings of faint, and even more frightening symptoms like chest pain and trouble forming coherent thoughts.
But while panic attacks generally have no physical cause, there is something that can occur that leads to real, legitimate physical sensations – chest breathing.
How Chest Breathing Increases Panic Attack Symptoms
Most people breathe incorrectly, through their chest instead of through their abdomen. At emotionally healthy times you may not even notice the effects of this type of breathing. But when you’re going through a panic attack you end up breathing very heavily, and this exacerbates the chest breathing symptoms, which include chest pains, lightheadedness, and shortness of breath. Without a panic attack these symptoms could be ignored, but during a panic attack these issues feel far more pronounced as a result of the panic, and your panic attack symptoms get worse.
How to Breathe the Right Way
Reducing the severity of your panic attack symptoms can actually help you prevent panic attacks altogether. That’s because panic attacks are often fueled by a fear of the severity of panic attacks. If your panic attacks are weaker, you’ll be able to control them better. But you will need to adopt better breathing strategies for this to occur, and the best way to do that is with abdominal breathing.
Abdominal breathing is the act of breathing in through your abdomen rather than your chest, and it’s a powerful form of breathing that can actually reduce anxiety and help your body experience less stress. Through abdominal breathing, your breathing becomes less shallow and more fulfilling for your lungs and body.
Training for Abdominal Breathing
Breathing in this way does require some training, as your body is used to breathing through the chest rather than through the diaphragm. It’s also a good tool to use as you’re going through a panic attack as a way of breathing more fully. The best way to train yourself with this type of breathing is as follows:
- Sit in a chair with your back straight.
- Place one hand on your stomach below your rib cage and one hand on your chest.
- Inhale slowly through your nose and try to fill up your abdomen first.
- Feel your stomach fill with more oxygen first, and fill up greater than your chest.
- • Exhale through your mouth slowly, using pursed lips as though breathing through a straw.
Experts recommend that you repeat this activity roughly 10 to 20 times every time you’re hoping to relax or train yourself to perform more abdominal breathing. Some people are able to find that they breathe this way even when they are not tense, but in the beginning it is best to use this as a relaxation exercise.
Abdominal Breathing and Panic Attacks
Abdominal breathing will not cure you of panic attacks on their own, but they will go a long way toward reducing panic attack symptoms and severity dramatically. Combine that with a change in lifestyle and other relaxation exercises and you’ll quickly find that your panic attack symptoms become much easier to manage, until eventually you are able to prevent them from coming back forever.