Did You Practice
the Deep Breathing?

by Dave Carbonell, PhD

The deep breathing instructions are at the Deep Breathing Exercise. If you've already practiced the instructions there, read on for more feedback and suggestions. If you haven't, your best bet is to start there, and return to this page later.

How did you do
with the deep breathing practice?

You might have had some difficulty, because breathing in the short, shallow way is such an old habit for people who struggle with anxiety. Don't let that bother you. It just means you need persistent, patient practice. Breathing style is a habit, and the best way to retrain a habit is lots and lots of repetition of the new habit.

Troubleshooting Tips

* If you have trouble redirecting your breathing from chest to stomach, practice isolating your stomach muscles first. Interlace your fingers across your stomach, and practice pushing your stomach out, then in, without breathing. As you get good at that, begin to pair it with your breathing.

* Use a variety of postures. When you're sitting down, you may find that leaning back in the chair, or leaning forward with your forearms on your thighs makes it a little easier than sitting up perfectly straight.

* Lie on your back. You can put a heavy book or other object on your chest to make it easier to focus on using your stomach muscles.

* Lie on your front, with a pillow beneath your stomach, and pressing your stomach against the pillow.

* Practice in front of a full length mirror, to see what you are doing.

* If you are unable to breath comfortably through your nose, due to allergies or any other reason, use your mouth instead. You will need to inhale even more slowly this way, in order to avoid gulping your air.

You'll know you've mastered this technique once your breathing feels more relaxing and soothing.

Build the Deep Breathing Habit

How often should you practice deep breathing? As often as possible, in sessions of one minute or so, for two weeks.

When it's time to practice, the first thing to do is notice how you've been breathing. Then switch to belly breathing for about one minute, as you continue doing whatever you were doing before you started. Don't interrupt your activity. You want good breathing to be portable!

You'll probably do best if you have a system for reminding yourself to practice the breathing. Here are some systems you might use.

*Do the deep breathing every hour, at the top of the hour, during your waking day.

*Use ordinary, frequent sounds or occurrences in your daily life as signals to do the breathing. For example, you can do the breathing each time:

the dog barks
a car horn honks
a phone rings
someone walks by your office
your toddler drops the sippy cup
you receive a text or tweet

*Place stickers or post-it-notes throughout your home, office, or wherever, to remind you.

*Tie a string around your finger

*Wear your watch on the opposite hand, and practice each time you notice it

*Set your digital device to periodically ring or buzz an alarm, to remind you to practice

Do this for two weeks, and you'll be well on your way to changing your breathing for the better!

How much is enough?

My patients usually want to know if they have to breathe this way all the time.

The answer is no.

Just focus on mastering the technique through regular, brief practice. Add it to your list of first aid steps to take when you have a panic attack. Use it whenever you experience a strong, unpleasant emotion. Over time, I think you'll find that you use this kind of breathing more and more as you make it your new habit. But you can let that happen naturally just by following the suggestions above.

You Used to Breathe this Way

My patients often express surprise at the idea that there is more than one way to breathe, or that breathing is something one must learn about. But they all used to do it this way. So did you.

Have you ever watched a newborn baby breathe?

Newborns are world class belly breathers. It's how we're built. But in our culture, we tend to put a high value on a flat, tight stomach, and we teach this to children, especially little girls.

Many people change their style of breathing, typically in adolescence, in response to messages they get at home, in school, and on the playground. They hold their stomach tight, and breathe from their chest. And ten or twenty years later, they don't remember they ever breathed any other way.

In a similar vein, my patients sometimes feel self conscious about doing this breathing, and worry that they will be doing something unusual that brings unwanted attention their way. If this is a concern of yours, start noticing how other people breathe. I think you'll find that there's quite a bit of variety, and nobody cares!

Want more resources? Here's a good article on the topic.

Back to Breathing Exercise from Deep Breathing

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© 2010-2024 David Carbonell, PhD.  Anxiety Coach® is a registered mark.
P.O. Box 256539, Chicago, IL 60625

Last updated on April 8, 2024