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Panic Attacks and Breath Exercises: Strategies to Use in Recovery

Highest Standards, Nationally Recognized:

Panic Attacks and Breath Exercises: Strategies to Use in Recovery

There are a multitude of ways that addiction affects us – and even in recovery, we still need time for our mind, body and spirit to heal. There are number of reasons why individuals struggle with anxiety in addiction recovery – and concerns like panic attacks often arise either out of having a mental illness, such as panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or a related condition, or because of their personal recovery process as a whole. If you believe you’ve been struggling with panic attacks, it’s important to know that you’re not alone – it is estimated that around 1-2% of the population experiences this, and, while that may not seem like a lot, it accounts for millions of people in the United States alone.

What are Panic Attacks?

A panic attack is defined by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) as, “The abrupt onset of fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes and includes at least one or more of the following symptoms”:

  •    Heart palpitations
  •    Sweating
  •    Trembling
  •    Shortness of breath
  •    Feelings of choking
  •    Chest pain
  •    Nausea
  •    Dizziness
  •    Chills or heat sensations
  •    Numbness
  •    Feeling as though one is “floating” or not part of reality
  •    Fear of losing control
  •    Fear of dying

When a panic attack arises, it can feel as if the world is caving in – and even if though we know it’s not real, that doesn’t make matters any easier. Anxiety at this level can occur out of thin air -and many people find it to be incredibly frightening. Whether you are having panic attacks as a result of a psychological disorder or out of a one-time incident, it’s important to speak with your therapist more about what you’re going through so that you can receive personalized treatment.

Why Breathing Exercises Help

Nobody likes to be told, “just breathe” when their in the middle of a panic attack – but did you know that it actually helps? As cliché as that phrase sounds, breathing exercises can ground us in a way that breaks up the “panic” factor of it all, and this balance may be just what we need to get through an otherwise extremely discomforting moment. Anxieties.com, a website that shares relevant information pertaining to anxiety and panic attacks, explains that the body goes through a process when breathing exercises are utilized:

Step 1: Less oxygen is consumed

Step 2: Breathing altogether slows down

Step 3: Heart rate slows

Step 4: Blood pressure decreases

Step 5: Muscle tension decreases

Step 6: The body begins to experience an overall sense of ease and calmness, including in the mind

When we’re hit with a pang of anxiety (or, in other words, a panic attack), we tend to breathe in more air through our upper lungs rather than shallow, deep breaths through our lower lungs, which can cause us to hyperventilate. These next 2 breathing exercises will explain a way to slow down your breathing the next time you endure a panic attack:

Natural Breathing

This type of breathing is one that tends to occur quite easily to us, but if we focus in on it, we’ll find that it’s a meditative practice. As you breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, allow yourself to witness the rise and fall of your chest and stomach with each breath. This is a natural, steady flow and a relaxed way that your body can breathe; of course, if you’re in an anxious state, you may be wondering, “How am I supposed to do that?!”

There’s an alternative practice you can use on days when you’re feeling especially anxious:

Calm Breathing

Take long, slow breaths in through your nose and count to three slowly. Breathe out through your mouth as you count to three again – and as you exhale, allow the air to release with your lips pursed. With each breath, you can begin focusing on the relaxation of your eyes, nose, ears, forehead, cheeks, etc. This breathing exercise could be particularly helpful in moving you into a body scan meditation, which involves slowly calming each part of your body starting from one end to the other.

When These Techniques Aren’t Working

Perhaps you’ve tried these two techniques and you’re still finding that the panic within you is enraged. Consider closing your eyes and trying these breathing techniques again, only counting to 10. Sometimes our bodies just need more time for the mind to adjust as well. Dr. Katharina Starr, a licensed professional counselor, told Very Well Mind in 2018, “Focusing on your breath during a panic attack is not as easy as it may seem. To get the most out of deep breathing, it is important that you practice regularly and at times when you are not feeling excessively anxious. If practiced often, you will also be able to use this technique when intense anxiety or panic attacks occur.”

Avalon Malibu offers a wide range of holistic practices to help you in your healing journey. If you’re ready to begin recovery, speak with a professional from Avalon Malibu today.

Avalon Malibu is a world-renowned, California state-licensed mental health and substance abuse recovery center. If you are ready to seek treatment to develop the tools you need to overcome life’s obstacles and be on the road towards happiness, health, and well-being, call us today at 844-857-5992 for a consultation. It’s never too late, and there are people here ready to help you.

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