Knowing something and doing something are two different things. As a psychotherapist, I knew breathing exercises were instrumental in reducing anxiety. But, applying it to my own life took a while.
But applying the same strategy I was teaching people in my therapy office to my own life made a big difference. Not only did it reduce my anxiety for public speaking engagements, but an added bonus was that it helped me run a lot faster too.
The Mind/Body Connection
There's a strong physiologic component to anxiety. Sweaty palms, a racing heartbeat, and flushed cheeks are just a few of the physical symptoms you might encounter when you're asked to give a toast at a wedding or when you enter a job interview.
Individuals with anxiety disorders--whether they have panic disorder or a specific phobia--experience those symptoms more often than most people. And their treatment often involves learning how to calm their brains and their bodies.
When people come into my office with anxiety, one of the first things we often address is the way they breathe. People with anxiety often take shallow breaths with their chest, as opposed to breathing with their stomachs.
Their ribs prevent their lungs from fully inflating. Consequently, they often feel like they're gasping for air, which exacerbates their anxiety. And the more anxious they feel, the more difficulty they seem to have breathing.
When they purposely breathe into their stomachs, they can take slow, deep breaths and fully inflate their lungs. That's often key to helping manage their symptoms.
Public Speaking and Breathing
As a psychotherapist, I wasn't used to speaking on a big stage. But after one of my articles went viral in 2013, invitations to speak at conferences and big corporations came rolling in.
But, when I was up on the stage under a big spotlight with an audience staring at me and 60 minutes to fill, I often felt like I was running out of air. And my anxiety spiked.
After the first few talks, I questioned myself. I thought perhaps I wasn't meant to be a public speaker.
But then I was invited to be on a national TV show. And an ice storm grounded all the planes--which meant I'd have to Skype into the show from home.
I was nervous about the internet connection and how I'd do answering questions when I couldn't see the host. As I sat there waiting for the show to begin, I noticed I was taking shallow breaths. So I immediately switched and began taking deep breaths into my stomach.
Almost immediately, my anxiety melted away. And I realized, I needed to more aware of my breathing when I'm giving a talk.
So now when I'm giving a talk or doing an interview, I work hard to breathe deep into my stomach. Being able to catch my breath calms my mind and my body and I feel much better.
Breathing and Running
I have always enjoyed running but for a long time I jogged at a slow pace so I could focus more on distance than on speed. But then I read some studies about how sprinting is actually better for your health and I started thinking about speed.
I decided to time myself to see how fast I could run a mile. Initially, I was around the 8 minute mark. I felt like my legs could travel a lot faster but they were limited by the burning sensation in my lungs.
Initially, I started thinking about how to get in better shape so I could run faster. I was envisioning a grueling regimen of hill sprints and long runs.
But then it occurred to me to pay attention to the way I was breathing. Sure enough, I was breathing with my chest, not my stomach.
It took some practice to breathe with my stomach while running--I'd done the opposite my entire life (soccer would have been way more fun as a kid if someone had told me this earlier).
Within a couple of weeks, I ran a mile in 6:56--over a minute was shaved off my run time. And for the first time ever, my legs felt more tired than my lungs.
Pay Attention to the Way You Breathe
One simple switch in the way I breathe made a big difference in my life. And now, I'm much more aware of how I'm breathing.
So check out the way you breathe. When you inhale, does your chest or stomach move? If you're taking shallow breaths with your chest, trying taking deep belly breaths and see what happens. You might find it helps you feel better in some surprising ways too.