As an ER nurse, I witnessed hundreds of people walk through our emergency room doors huffing and puffing, sweating, complaining of chest tightness, numbness in their hands and face, and washed over with sheer panic—classic anxiety attack symptoms.
The first thing I would tell them: BREATHE.
Many people don’t realize that it's the hyperventilation, the shallow and short breathing, that causes most of your symptoms. Hyperventilation is part of your body’s natural stress response, but also creates a cascade of uncomfortable symptoms. So to counteract this, we'll learn how to stop an anxiety attack by changing the way you breathe.
I’d lock eyes with my patient and encourage them to follow me in this breathing exercise for anxiety:
How To Belly Breathe
- Place one hand over your belly button. Your hand will help you visualize the rise and fall of your belly as you breathe.
- Open your mouth, gently sigh, and reset. Let your shoulders and muscles of your upper body relax down with the exhale.
- Close your mouth and pause for a second.
- Keep your mouth closed and slowly inhale through your nose by pushing your belly out. Try to inhale slowly and evenly over four seconds.
- Pause briefly for a second before exhaling.
- Open your lips only slightly (as if you are using a straw) and exhale through your mouth by pulling your belly button in towards your spine. Try to exhale slowly and evenly over four seconds, matching your exhale to the depth of your inhale. Repeat.
This will be an important tool to help you cope with stress and overcoming anxiety. Anytime you begin to feel anxious, revert to this proven method for reducing anxiety.