Learning to Breathe

One evening I was at a church function. Suffering with an anxiety disorder, I do my best to always sit at the end of the pew, yet for some reason, I ended up toward the middle, and it was a crowded congregation. It was not long into the program that I started to feel it – the walls were moving in and the air was disappearing. The people around me were growing – or I was shrinking –  and it was was overwhelming. Fear and panic had set in. My heart was racing, I felt  sweat forming on my head, and the palms of my hands put a new definition to clammy. Inside I was shaking and knew in moments I would be shaking on the outside as well. This was it, I was trapped and there was no way I was getting out.

Now, the walls were not moving. People were not physically changing in size. The oxygen percentage of the room was not fluctuating. Rationally, I knew this. Emotionally, the danger was real and asking people to let me out of the pew – making a scene??? Oh, no way. In my mind this just was not possible.

I took my bracelet I had on, an engraved metal plate with a leather strap, and I ran my thumb back and forth over it. I concentrated on the feel of the embossed lines, the feel of the metal, the curves of the sides, the point of the edges. Quietly I inhaled, telling myself, I am safe. I exhaled, reminding myself, just breathe. Focus, focus, focus. I tuned out all around me and focused all I had on that bracelet. My breathing slowed and my panic started to calm. The walls retreated and the people around me returned to normal size. It was a simple breathing technique I had learned, and no one even knew what had happened. I made it, and I did it on my own.

Have you ever noticed that the way you breathe changes how you feel?
Here are some examples:

  • Anger can come out as shallow inhalations and strong exhalations.
  • Guilt can appear as restricted or suffocate shallow breath.
  • Boredom might be shallow, lifeless breath.
  • Grief can be spasmodic, sobbing or superficial breath.
  • Depression can be observed as breath with a depressed or sunken upper chest.

Changing the way we breathe can help us change how we are feeling. The best part of using our breathing to regulate our emotions is that it can be done with no one knowing.

If you take nothing else away from this site, learn to breathe, learn to use your breath as your greatest tool. Follow the links below to learn some of the different breathing techniques I learned through DBT, that you can use either to calm your emotions or use as a daily mindfulness practice.