Proper, natural breathing plays a significant role in both depression and anxiety, but for kind of opposite reasons. In brief, people with depression tend to breathe shallowly because of body posture and anxious people tend to breathe shallowly and rapidly because their overactive adrenaline machine is filling up all the necessary fight or flight systems with fuel. I recall when I was highly anxious it felt like I couldn’t get a full breath. I would try to breathe deeply but couldn’t. Now I know it was because I already had a high concentration of oxygen in my system because my “fight or flight” system was fueled and ready for action. Trying to force in more air would cause me to hyperventilate and…. what’s the next step class?…. that’s right! …and have a full blown !$%==%&&!!!## panic attack.
The opposite could happen to a depressed person breathing so shallowly she fainted. The low oxygen rates from shallow breathing certainly cause lightheadness. I read a recent article on the Optimal 2 Breathing Mastery website about the dynamics of depression and breathing. Research indicates people suffering depression tend to slump and not use good breathing mechanics, which can raise carbon dioxide levels, reduce oxygen intake and create a number of health problems.
The site recommends breathing and physical exercises as perhaps a better treatment than any of the commonly used antidepressants. One contributor to the site reported that when she changed her posture by throwing her shoulders back and breathing with her diaphragm, her depression symptoms were markedly reduced.
All the research I’ve read on breathing and emotional well being indicates exercise of some form is the best antidote to depression and anxiety. Both yoga and aerobics sessions are recommended on the site. For folks with the anxiety breathing problem, the solution is really to begin meditatively focusing on your breathing so you can help guide it back to normal. Once you even start a safe, healing practice your adrenaline blaster will idle down a bit and go along with you in getting back to relaxed breathing. Essentially, you have to get in a comfortable as possible posture on a chair and begin to think only of your breath. Watch what your chest is doing as you’re breathing and then your belly. Your diaphragm expands in a deep normal breath and your body tends to straighten. When I’m meditating I focus on my breathing and counting. I wait until a natural urge to breathe begins and then take it in through my nostrils to the count of 4. I hold it lightly awhile and let it out through pursed lips to the count of 8. I think the key is to wait until your body says “breathe.”
It makes me feel good that solutions can be so simple. Focus on the basics. Breathe well and live well. Your pal Hal