Ongoing anxiety can be extremely debilitating and negatively affect nearly every facet of your life, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Anxiety is highly treatable, and the greatest tool against it is both free and already within you.

 

Understanding Anxiety

 

Anxiety occurs when the flight, flight, freeze response is activated in your body (more on this later). It is most often caused by worries or fears about things that could threaten you, thoughts of people or things in the past that did threaten you, or anxiety about anxiety itself.

Anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness and nearly 20% of the population struggle with one.[1]

 

If left unmanaged, anxiety can wreak havoc on your mental and emotional wellbeing, interfere with your relationships, and reduce your ability to concentrate and be productive at work.[2],[3] Anxiety can also cause several harmful health effects including high blood pressure, increased risk for heart disease, atherosclerosis, and depression; chronic inflammation, sleep disorders, diabetes, weight gain, and immune dysregulation.[4],[5],[6]

 

Why the Breath Is The Most Effective Anti-Anxiety Tool

 

Research shows certain breathing practices are remarkably effective at reducing stress and anxiety – both instantly and also over time. The keyway in which they do so is by stimulating the vagus nerve, which is a large nerve that originates in the brain and branches out in numerous directions in the neck and torso. You can think of the vagus nerve as your body’s superhighway, carrying vital information between the brain, body and all your organs, and controlling how your body responds in times of relaxation and rest.[7]

 

As an interesting aside, the vagus nerve is also largely responsible for the mind-body connection because it works as a mediator between thinking and feeling. In fact, it is now believed that it is the vagus nerve that produces gut feelings, and author Christopher Bergland cleverly suggests in Psychology Today, that we replace “trust your gut” with “trust your vagus nerve.”[8] But back to anxiety…

 

The vagus nerve acts as the primary controller of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the “rest and digest” part of the autonomic nervous system. The opposing division is the sympathetic nervous system, which when activated produces the “fight or flight” response that fuels stress and anxiety. By stimulating the vagus nerve, breath practices help shift sympathetic activation to parasympathetic activation, and in so doing, act as an instant break on the stress response: heart rate and blood pressure are reduced, the body becomes relaxed, and anxiety disappears. And the effects are powerful – numerous studies have found vagus nerve stimulation to be equally or more effective than medications for treating depression and anxiety disorders including obsessive-compulsive disorder, PTSD, and panic disorder. [9],[10],[11]

 

The vagus nerve essentially listens to your breath, and then sends the heart and brain messages based on what your breath is indicating. So when you breathe deeply (diaphragmatic breathing) or slowly, your brain and heart are told to relax.[12],[13] Conversely, if you breathe rapidly, or hyperventilate, you activate the sympathetic nervous system, your heart speeds up, and you feel stressed and anxious as a result.[14] Worth noting, it is the exhale (as opposed to the inhale) and slow respiration cycles that create the vagal activity and trigger the relaxation response. [15],[16] This explains why breath practices where the exhale is extended have been found to be so effective at dissolving stress and anxiety.

 

How to Use the Breath As An Emergency Anti-Anxiety Tool

 

When you feel tension or anxiety kicking in, remember the breath is your most powerful alley. Connecting with it, deepening it, and slowing it down will stimulate your vagus nerve, and activate your parasympathetic nervous system, producing an inner calm in as little as one minute. For even more potent results, try practicing The Transformer Breath, which founder of AoB Anthony Abbagnano developed specifically for those who experience anxiety (you can learn about it in greater detail in his Transformers: Transforming Anxiety course). The power of The Transformer Breath is that you are transforming anxiety into enthusiasm. You are activating your vagus nerve and taking something that triggers you into a short, anxious breath and transforming it into a long, calming breath.

 

Here is the Transformer Breath (Level 1):

 

  • Deepen your breath
  • Count to 4 on your inhale and 8 on your exhale
  • Repeat, only this time your inhale will remain 4 seconds long but your exhale will be 9 seconds
  • Repeat 4 seconds in, 10 seconds out
  • Repeat, continually extending the exhale by 1 second per cycle, up to whatever number feels comfortable
  • Practice the Transformer Breath for 3-4 minutes, 3 times daily, and return to it whenever you feel tension or anxiety arising

 

Conscious, Connected Breathwork – The Long Term Solution for Anxiety

 

Regularly participating in conscious, connected Breathwork sessions, such as those that are offered by Alchemy of Breath, can lead to a dramatic reduction of stress and anxiety in several ways. Firstly, Breathwork increases your level of presence, and when you are fully present in the moment, stress and anxiety can rarely exist. Secondly, Breathwork helps shift your perspective and builds inner resilience so you become more equanimous and immune to outside stressors. Thirdly, Breathwork helps to release traumas that have been stored in your body and may have trapped you in the sympathetic “fight, flight, or freeze” mode.

 

Another important way Breathwork dissolves anxiety is by reconnecting your mind with your body, (most of us disconnect from our bodies at a very young age). When you practice Breathwork regularly, you become (re)embodied which is important because it is our thoughts that produce our anxiety and distract us from finding solutions. But when we learn to drop into our feelings and listen to the messages our bodies are sending us, we become emotionally grounded, open to solutions and possibilities, and far less prone to waves of fear and anxiety. The final way Breathwork helps is by toning the vagus nerve. With repeated practice, your parasympathetic system becomes strengthened and sympathetic activation becomes less frequent, leading to an inner calm that is not easily shaken.

 

Learn to Understand and Transform Anxiety in just 10 days

 

Alchemy of Breath has developed a powerful 10-day Transformers: Transforming Anxiety Course that targets all the underlying causes of anxiety. In this video-based course, you will gain simple yet powerful self-inquiry, mind-body, and breath-based tools to transform the energy of anxiety into something positive and productive. You will also learn levels 2 and 3 of The Transformer Breath which you can use to target anxiety at its root. Plus you will be led through a full conscious, connected Breathwork session, which you can keep and listen to as often as you like, to increase embodiment, tone your vagus nerve, calm the stress response, and dramatically enhance overall wellbeing.

 

🌟 For more information: https://alchemyofbreath.com/anxiety/

 

If you would like to receive the multitude of benefits of conscious, connected Breathwork sessions, you can join us at our Free Sunday #BreatheWorld offerings. Hope to see you there 🙂

 

[1] https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics#

[2] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/342589861_Effects_of_Anxiety_on_Health_and_Well-being_of_the_Individuals

[3] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11097-018-9559-x

[4] https://www.ndss.com.au/about-diabetes/resources/find-a-resource/diabetes-and-anxiety-fact-sheet/

[5] https://www.nature.com/articles/tp201327

[6] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11097-018-9559-x

[7] https://www.livescience.com/vagus-nerve.html

[8] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201302/the-neurobiology-grace-under-pressure

[9] https://www.livescience.com/vagus-nerve.html

[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6189422/

[11] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16131297/

[12] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20954960/

[13] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5709795/

[14] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5709795/

[15] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6189422/

[16] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4842319/