Your eyes are closed. You can hear the hum of a crowd around you. Your face is flushed from the heat of the lights bearing down on you. You forcefully exhale the breath you didn’t realize you’ve been holding and open your eyes. You are on stage looking out at the crowd in front of you waiting for you to begin your performance. There’s only one problem… you never practiced. Well shit. That’s not good.
Sounds like a nightmare right? Most people would never try to perform something, whether it’s a musical act, a sport, or a comedy routine, without first practicing the heck out of it. So why do you do it when you try to cope with your anxiety symptoms?
One of the worst things about anxiety is the smorgasbord of nasty physical symptoms that can come along with it. When anxiety creeps up on you, it can throw you into full fight-or-flight mode. Your nervous system causes your heart to start racing, your breathing to quicken and get more shallow, and your muscles to tighten so that you are ready for action. But you aren’t trying to run from a lion. You’re trying to give a presentation at work or call that hottie from your yoga class. You don’t need those fight-or-flight reflexes screaming at you.
The stupid simple advice that most anyone will give you is to just take a deep breath as if that is going to magically solve the problem. Technically deep breathing can be a magic tool to kick your nervous system into it’s relaxation mode, buuuuuuuut most people suck at breathing. Unfortunately, if you are feeling panicky and you try to do some deep breathing, but it doesn’t seem to work, it can actually make you feel worse. You can accidentally increase your anxiety because you feel like something serious must be wrong with you if the all-powerful deep breath doesn’t clear up your situation.
You need to practice breathing.
I know this sounds dumb, but in order to make deep breathing an effective option to cope with your physical anxiety symptoms, you need to practice it. Just like an Olympic gymnast wouldn’t try a trick for the first time in a competition, you shouldn’t try deep breathing exercises for the first time when the pressure is already on. Instead, you need to practice breathing during times when you are not already totally stressed and anxious. You need to learn how it feels to switch your body from panic mode into relaxation mode.
Practically speaking, when you are learning how to use breathing as an anxiety coping tool, you should be practicing it around three times per week for at least 10 minutes at a time. Find times when you are the least stressed to do this. At home, before bed, or even in the shower. This will allow you to have low stakes. You don’t NEED to calm down. You are just trying to teach yourself how to.
Once you get this down as a skill, you will be able to rely on it more readily when the pressure is on. When you are about to start taking your final exam and you feel the knot in your stomach starting to build, you can pull out this handy tool that you have been rehearsing and bring yourself down a few notches. It’s important to understand that deep breathing will not cure your anxiety and it will likely not bring you down to a perfectly calm baseline. However, if you are at a 9/10 anxiety level and it brings you down to a 6/10, that is still pretty good. That might be enough to help you follow through with your activities rather than bailing out or having a full panic attack.
Want to learn more about my favorite amazingly simple and effective breathing exercise? Download my free “Kick Anxiety’s Ass Quickstart Guide”. I teach you the fundamentals about what anxiety actually is and teach you three awesome coping skills to start taking your life back. Get started now!