A slow, light nose breath can help, however at the height of a stress attack, I find it's quite hard to actually do it. My mind is racing, as is my heart rate. I end up gasping. So not breathing at all is a quick way to break the cycle. It sounds counter-intuitive doesn’t it?
I learnt this when I began freediving 8 years ago, swimming underwater on one breath. I don’t have debilitating anxiety but I am generally tense, a natural worrier and can rarely sit still. That made me an unusual candidate for a sport where relaxation gets the best results!
For me, the key was learning to get comfortable with discomfort. Being able to relax into, and accept whatever feeling comes up is a great skill for day to day life.
When I hold my breath, it’s relaxing at first; quiet and still. Then my body asks me to breathe with a ripple sensation in my belly. That gets stronger, coming in waves. And each time I tell myself I have plenty of oxygen left. I can wear a monitor that confirms it.
This unlikely freediver went on to set 5 British records and compete at the World Championships!
Now, I’m not saying you need to do long breath holds at all. I show you how to use very short breath pauses on my free breath mini-course.
A slow breath can be super effective too, timing it to perfectly match your heart rate, and best used daily as a mechanism to reduce your stress overall.