After many, many opportunities to practice breathing techniques in an attempt to quench anxiety in a very quick and efficient manner, I have experienced some success, mostly in more recent episodes. I believe I have realized the physiological process in such a way that it can be fully described, and hopefully develop a simple and step by step technique that will bring a suffering person back to a calm and clear state of mind in record time. Perhaps a minute or less.
First I would like to describe the physiology of the state of anxiety (in terms of breathing) and panic as well. It seems that they are both far more dependent on our breathing than has been realized.
When we perceive a fearful event or outcome, and this may be internal or external in nature, we receive a sudden surge of adrenaline from the adrenal glands which sit just above our kidneys (it may be the reason we feel the intense fear first in "the pit of your stomach"). Adrenaline serves to make us more alert, increase our awareness and even modify blood sugar levels. A major secondary effect seems to take place here. Respiration almost always changes to reflect the magnitude of the adrenaline release. It turns out there may be a simple and sound biological explanation for this.
When we breathe faster, we sacrifice a certain amount of lung capacity to accommodate the increase. This sacrificed region is ultimately in the deeper, more branched and narrower regions of our bronchial tubes. Since these deeper alveoli are not being purged, CO2 is allowed to build up to maximum levels. This elevated CO2 can be felt as a very deep and desperate need to breathe more air, and breathe quickly to relieve the unpleasant sensation that results (hyperventilation). This serves another purpose. This rapid, shallow breathing causes our CO2 levels to begin dropping very rapidly, but the CO2 in the “stagnant” portion of our lungs changes very little, if at all. It seems logical that this could be a survival mechanism in a real “fight or flight” situation since it will take significantly longer to build CO2 levels back up to the point of exhaustion.
For a person who severely internalized, phobic, or hypersensitized, these sensations can be very unpleasant for some and downright disturbing for others. When the individual realizes this sudden change of state of well-being, the result is apprehension, alarm, and an even deeper feeling of fear and dread about the familiar yet extremely unpleasant sensations arises. In a further attempt to prepare for disaster, another large surge of adrenaline is released. All of the same physiological responses are re-experienced, except it is intensified because adrenaline levels did not have sufficient time to return to baseline (it is processed by the liver).
For a highly phobic person, if he/she is heavily focused on these symptoms, this can quickly progress to a state of panic.
Based on this information, I have come up with a few simple (hopefully) steps to get things back to normal as quickly as possible.
First, take as deep a breath as you comfortably can (the diaphragm will likely be very tense at this point, and a deep breath may be difficult which is fine). Then, allow your lungs to empty naturally by opening your mouth (or let it out through your nose, just make sure you blow it first), and keep letting it flow out of your body by it’s own pressure until no more air is leaving. This is where the magic begins, so this part is very, very important!!!
Do not move or change anything at this point. Do not push more air out, do not take another breath, just allow your entire body to relax right along with the effortlessly emptied lungs. If you feel any tension at all in your diaphragm at this point, check to make sure you are not holding in your stomach, allow it to stick out if it does so naturally. Maintain this state for at least 4 seconds. The first thing you might notice is that you are not craving air. You’re not breathing, but at the same time the sensation of being out of breath is not demanding your attention. Now take another deeper, slower breath, this time breathing all the way down toward your stomach, and let it out again, returning to the same “neutral” state as before, and maintaining this state for an amount of time you are comfortable with (anywhere from 3-6 seconds should be fine). Repeat this a few more times and see what happens. Hopefully, you will be back in a calm and peaceful state as though there was never any problem.
Two things are happening here. First, by exhaling and counting to 4, you are allowing a moment for the CO2 levels in your blood to re-establish. Second, the subsequent slow, deep breath purges the stagnant CO2 that sits deep within your lungs.
I don't want this to sound too "know it all" or anything like that, I would like feedback on this and if possible some subjects to give it a try and share with me the results. It just might be that this is something that only works for me, so I won't be hurt if you tell me it did nothing for you!
Guilt and shame have never done any of us any good at all.