The 6 Basics of Abdominal Breathing to Manage Anxiety

Obviously, breathing is essential for the maintenance and survival of the human body, but many people tend to overlook its implications for our emotional state. It is not in vain that many of the techniques and strategies used in psychotherapy involve conscious control of the way we breathe.

In this way, abdominal breathing is one of the most important variations in learning to regulate the way we think and feel. And, in particular, it helps to achieve a state of relaxation and relieve anxiety. In this article, we’ll focus, but first we’ll go over the main types of breathing.

    The most important types of breathing

    Before getting into the keys to abdominal breathing, you need to dig a little deeper into the types of breathing that exist. Mainly, we can consider that there are three different types of ways of breathing.

    1. Abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing

    Abdominal breathing is one in which there is significant movement of the diaphragm, a muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdomen and which acts as a wharf. When breathing, the diaphragm goes down to the abdomen, air is drawn into the lungs and when this muscle rises the air is expelled outwards. That is, it acts like a kind of piston by pressing on the lower part of the lungs and pushing the air up towards the trachea.

    This type of breathing is believed to help harness lung capacity and effectively oxygenate cells in the body.

      2. Chest breathing

      Chest breathing is that in which there is opening and closing of the rib cage. This breathing pattern causes relaxation if done in a directed manner, but benefits both lung and abdominal capacity.

      3. Clavicular breathing

      Clavicular respiration is that which takes place in the upper part of the chest and, therefore, causes the collarbones to rise. This is the typical breathing of states of anxiety and nervousness, and it is very shallow and inefficient, because with each sip of air the blood is poorly oxygenated.

      When performing this type of muscle movement, little air enters the lungs, which forces you to take several breaths in a row to get oxygen properly. And because little oxygen is inhaled, little reaches the brain and a state of alert can occur because the body is in a vulnerable situation. It is therefore both a (partial) cause and a consequence of anxiety.

        The basics of abdominal breathing

        These are the guidelines and key ideas that should be taken into account when doing abdominal breathing.

        1. Start learning in a context that makes it easier for you

        If you start to practice abdominal breathing, do your best to make it easier for you, because starting from 0 is already a challenge in itself. Go to a quiet, distraction-free place that offers privacy. Otherwise, you are more likely to be costly or frustrated, and that will demotivate you.

          2. Make sure your belly expands more than your chest.

          A very simple and intuitive way to tell if you are doing good abdominal breathing is to put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. If they both move more or less the same, you are wrong. Ideally, the belly hand should move a lot more and that the one of the chest hardly does it.

            3. Quality matters more than quantity

            Make sure that each cycle of inhale and exhale goes without rushing but without pausing, devoting dedication to each. Allow a few seconds to pass during the air intake and exhaust process.

            4. Rhythm is more important than strength

            Some people make the mistake of trying to perform abdominal breathing by straining so much of the capacity of the lungs, to the point of experiencing discomfort due to the tension generated in their muscles and tissues in general. But this not only produces completely unnecessary discontent, but also works against the most important aspect of a good way of breathing: maintaining a constant and consistent pace.

            5. The lungs expand in all directions

            Note that although we notice the breathing phases especially at the front of our trunk, the lungs not only expand forward, but expand in all directions; the only thing that happens is that we have more soft parts in the ventral part.

            Therefore, when doing abdominal breathing, you should let them extend to the sides as well as to the lower back. Many people are surprised to learn that if they breathe deeply with the diaphragm, they notice how the part of the kidneys swells.

              6. Don’t obsess over breathing like this all the time

              It is normal for you to go through different types of breathing every day. No one can control the way they breathe all the time, because that would be exhausting and would involve a significant effort at the cost of neglecting other important aspects of the life (more, paradoxically, this perfectionism would make us anxious).

              Keep in mind that if we breathe automatically and anxiety predisposes us to breathe in a certain way, it is no accident; there are survival mechanisms behind it, and they’ve been severed through hundreds of thousands of years of natural selection. The goal should be to intervene in your breathing especially at key times when you notice that anxiety is not helping you, but is a hindrance.

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              Bibliographical references

              • Amutio, A. (2002) Stress Management Strategies: The Role of Relaxation. Notebooks of psychosomatic medicine, 62/63.
              • Payne, RA (2005). Relaxation techniques. Badalona: Editorial Paidotribo.

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