Breathe easy to beat anxiety

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We know that one in seven Australians have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, which means that even if you don’t suffer anxiety yourself, it’s likely you know someone that does. This week I had the pleasure of talking with Canberra physiotherapist Tess Graham who’s just published Relief from Anxiety and Panica new book about overcoming anxiety by changing the way you breathe.

Graham’s interest in breathing was sparked when two of her three children began suffering from chronic asthma. Whilst exploring ways to help her children that didn’t rely solely on medication, she discovered research which showed that if you can restore breathing to a physiologically normal level, you can resolve asthma symptoms. Fascinatingly, there are also lessons here for anxiety sufferers.

Tess explains, “asthmatics, like people with anxiety, characteristically over-breathe – that is all the time, but worse at the beginning of an ‘attack’. For an asthmatic, the over-breathing irritates the airways causing dehydration, inflammation and the narrowing of airways which causes wheezing and difficulty breathing. For those with anxiety, over-breathing revs up your nervous system and creates imbalance in blood chemistry, which causes blood vessels to narrow and interferes with the release of oxygen to your tissues, particularly to the heart and brain. The result can be dizziness, feeling spaced out, breathlessness, heart palpitations, tingling, nausea and feeling terrified.”

Rather than trying to employ a new breathing technique when you’re in the midst of a panic attack or anxiety episode, Graham’s advice is to learn how to adjust your everyday breathing to a softer and slower breath. In the book, she teaches the benefits of ‘nine habits of healthy breathing’ – a simple, step-by-step approach that is backed by research. “We breathe around 16,000 times while we are awake, so that is 16,000 opportunities to practise breathing a little better each day,” she explains.

The wisdom of this approach is that it changes your physiology in favourable ways. For example, it can lower your heart rate, improve oxygenation and modify an overly active sympathetic nervous system. The end result is being able to access greater feelings of calm, stabilising your nervous system at a very deep level and banishing episodes of anxiety.

* Relief from Anxiety and Panic, $29.99, from

Wes Smith is Live Well's Director and has 20 years experience as a practitioner and wellness educator. He has a special interest in working with chronic immune issues, stressanxiety and depression

Wes is passionate about inspiring and educating people to create and sustain their vitality and wellbeing so they can live life to the full.

Wes also enjoys teaching meditation and is the creator of an online resource for learning how to meditate. es has a B.App.Sc.(Acup), Diploma of Herbal Medicine, a Yoga Teaching Diploma and is an APHRA registered acupuncturist. Learn more about acupunctureherbal medicine and meditation.

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