Anxiety Buster: Breathing

I have ‘White Coat Syndrome’ – which is when your blood pressure reading is normal at home but when a doctor or nurse takes it, it’s often skyhigh. I am slowly improving with my GP over time, but still take my readings at home to share with him so that he can keep an eye on me – in case I need to start taking blood pressure medication for high blood pressure. (I find it slightly humorous that I’ve been on 2 different blood pressure medications and neither of them were for my blood pressure. The first was actually for treating anxiety and the second for preventing migraines. I’ll cover medication and supplements in a future post.) In my home record of my blood pressure, I note if my husband is in the room or if I am feeling stressed or having chest pressure – all three are sure to increase my reading. My GP laughed when he saw my first note about my husband, so I explained how when I am on the treadmill, hooked up the heart-rate monitor, if my husband starts to talk to me, my heart-rate will immediately shoot up into the ‘red zone’. We laughed about it – but I’m telling you – when I go to take my blood pressure, I often put my ear plugs in so that I can’t hear anyone! πŸ™‚ I also find taking time to quiet myself with a few deep breaths is helpful before I take my B/P.

Breathing exercises do not work for everyone (this article does an excellent job of explaining why relaxation techniques don’t work for everyone), but as they are free, fast, and easy, they are definitely worth trying. I’ve got a few different phone apps that use breathing exercises, but I often find the timing to be off from what feels right to me.

My technique:

  • I quietly sit or stand in one place.
  • I take a deep breath, as slowly as feels comfortable. I might try to count as I breathe – or not – the first breath is usually just to calm down and stop my mind from spinning.
  • I hold it briefly, for as long as it feels comfortable. This first breath is usually short as I gather my thoughts into focusing on breathing.
  • I then slowly release the breath, as is comfortable. During this first breathe-out phase, I can usually take a bit more time that it took to breathe in.
  • On my second deep breath, I may choose to count or take it a bit slower than the first one. I like to try to match the times it takes to breathe in with both the holding of breath and the release.
  • On my third deep breath, I may take it a bit faster – just because I often feel like I need more air by the third breath. The important part is not to judge/shame yourself while you’re doing the exercise – do whatever is most comfortable for you. If you are feeling anxious, the last thing you need is to feel like you can’t even breathe right! πŸ˜‰
  • Repeat this slow breathe in – pause – slow breath out until you feel your body relax (usually my shoulders will relax with the first few breaths).
  • After I feel ready to stop with the breathing, I just breathe normally and do a quick check-in with myself to see if I am actually ready to move on with life, or if I need to repeat the breathing exercise.

You can do a web search on PTSD breathing techniques and discover several different options to try. There are a plethora of articles that present the benefits of breathing exercises. Here are a few links:

Breathing and Its Benefits on Trauma Survivors (a very short informational page)

For a more detailed explanation (you can choose to watch/listen to a youtube video or just read through the transcript): Breathing Retraining in PTSD: A practical exercise by Barbara Rothbaum, Ph.D.

And if this anxiety buster just isn’t for you, you might appreciate reading the article I linked earlier: Why Relaxtion Techniques Don’t Work for Trauma and What to do Instead

If you’ve got a breathing technique that works for you, feel free to share it in the comments. πŸ™‚

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