Shallow Breathing and Panic Attacks: The HSP Body-Mind; Part IV

by | Jun 12, 2017 | HSP Blog

This was not going to be the subject of my next blog, however, it does seem to fit. At the same time, I need to elaborate upon this theme. It seems that my clients old and new, are grappling with this same issue … anxiety and panic attacks (mild, moderate and severe). What I am realizing from my own life experience on this topic, is that when mildly stressed, let alone highly stressed, I have long since discovered how shallow I am breathing. I am now much more aware of this phenomenon and therefore able to control it and share this victory with my clients. A large percentage of my clients suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. When we begin to look more deeply into the events, environment, and moments leading up to these uncomfortable feelings, it is nearly inevitable that I find each person is not breathing normally nor deeply (while living it and even when recounting the story in therapy). What happens as a result? Let me share that with you.

There is a cascade effect of shallow breathing. When we are nervous, anxious or stressed, HSPs tend to breathe less deeply. The result of this action is that the brain and central nervous system receive less oxygen. When recognizing that it is in oxygen deprivation, an alarm is set off in the brain that says “we’re in trouble! Gear up for flight or fight!.” At this point, cortisol is released and blood rushes to the core (trunk) of the body. This is the sympathetic nervous system at its best. Except for the fact that we don’t need this pooling of resources unless we are planning to fight or flee! If we are not planning on doing the 100 yard dash at that given moment, we are then stuck with the effects of the cortisol and sympathetic nervous system in high gear (what to do then will be saved for a future blog).

Just prior to such moments, if we are able to notice the slightest change in our breathing, heart rate or anxiousness, we can nip the cascade in the bud before we go over the water falls. From the second you notice the change in your body, just start breathing in deeply, rhythmically, in your nose, and exhaling out of your mouth, letting your belly and inflate and deflate (rather than our innate breathing that expands only our lungs). Breathing this way over and over again, if you have caught it before going over the edge, you can successfully thwart a full blown panic attack from occurring. By this breathing, we are activating the parasympathetic nervous system (which works even better if your exhale is longer than your inhale). The parasympathetic nervous system instructs the body to calm down and thus allows the blood to redistribute more to our extremities rather than our core.

As exciting as mastering these escalations, is the fact that the more we are able to control them, the less they will occur in the future. Yes, we are once again learning that we can change our brain and body’s behavior by often the smallest of interventions. Yet it does take practice to stay acutely aware of those first signals. Then say “Hallelujah!” Trust me when I say you will be singing those praises when you find out that it works. It’s definitely a game changer for we HSPs who need every possible technique to control the effects of being over stimulated (internally or externally, which can result in avoidable anxiety, panic and suffering).

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