By Alane Palmer, ND, CNC and Annah Gillette
The quickest way to change your heart rate is to improve your breathing. Feeling like “I can’t catch my breath!” is probably the most common of all panic symptoms. Your breathing feels labored, you strain to take a deep breath, you fear you’re not going to get it – and the harder you try, the worse it feels! If you’re talking, you’re breathing! It’s not a dangerous symptom. But it does get people very scared, and it produces other uncomfortable physical symptoms, so it’s worth your while to be able to correct it.
A good breathing exercise should tell you how to take a deep breath.
Belly Breathing Exercise
1. Place one hand just above your belt line, and the other on your chest, right over the breastbone. You can use your hands as a simple biofeedback device. Your hands will tell you what part of your body, and what muscles, you are using to breathe.
2. Open your mouth and gently sigh, as if someone had just told you something annoying. As you do, let your shoulders and the muscles of your upper body relax, down, with the exhale. The point of the sigh is not to empty your lungs. It’s just to relax the muscles of your upper body.
3. Close your mouth and pause for a few seconds.
4. Keep your mouth closed and inhale slowly through your nose by pushing your stomach out. The movement of your belly precedes the inhalation by just the tiniest fraction of a second because it’s this motion which is pulling the air in. When you’ve inhaled as much air as you can comfortably (without throwing your upper body into it), just stop. You’re finished with that inhale.
5. Pause. How long? You decide. Pause briefly for whatever time feels comfortable. However, be aware that when you breathe this way, you are taking larger breaths than you’re used to. For this reason, it’s necessary to breathe more slowly than you’re used to. If you breathe at the same rate you use with your small, shallow breaths, you will probably feel a little lightheaded from over breathing, and it might make you yawn. Neither is harmful. They’re just signals to slow down. Follow them!
6. Open your mouth. Exhale through your mouth by pulling your belly in.
8. Continue with Steps 4-7.
Focus on your breath and clear your mind of everything else. Doing so will help you break the pattern of an anxious or excited feeling. Have you ever heard a nervous speaker, they sound all breathy and shaky, this is because they are inhaling but not exhaling completely. Focus on both a deep inhale and an exhaustive exhale. Continue until you feel relaxed and in control again.
Another quick breathing exercise when you need to clear your mind is to count your breaths to 10 and back down again. Inhale- 1, exhale 2, inhale 3… Keeping the number low helps you not get distracted.
Excess cortisol can be a stress contributor. High cortisol can make you feel like you are always wound up, full of head noise, have a faster than normal heart rate, overweight and of course you will most likely have trouble sleeping. A simple saliva cortisol test can determine your cortisol levels and adrenal function.
Get Tested: Cortisol Stress Test
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Medical disclaimer: Our tests cannot be used to diagnose, treat or cure any disease. All test results are to be used as educational materials and as a guide to help support your overall health and wellness. Always discuss health concerns with your medical doctor.