DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING 101 for panic and anxiety

One of the questions I recently received is actually very common. It is about deep breathing and using it to relax…. during an attack.  One specific comment was that when deep breathing they would start to feel funny.   So true your body is not used to that much 02!  But deep breathing can be very helpful. With any type of anxiety or panic, (let’s face it – any stressful situation or when in pain) you tend to breath more quickly and rapidly and often much shallower.  If this happens often enough your body will get used to this incorrect breathing and it becomes a habit.

Be mindful that shallow breathing or attempts at rapid deep breaths causes side effects that are often interrupted as an inability to breath, something majorly wrong with your body or lungs…  This SOB (shortness of breath) can be very alarming!

Here is a list of some of the major SE (side effects)  from Med line plus Medical encyclopedia of incorrect breathing . For many who visit this blog these are the symptoms they experience repeatedly. These symptoms accompany panic, anxiety, stress… and cause fear.

  • Feeling lightheaded, dizzy, weak, or not able to think straight.
  • Feeling as if you can’t catch your breath.
  • Chest pain or fast and pounding heartbeat.  YES, EVEN YOUR HEART IS AFFECTED!
  • Belching or bloating.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Muscle spasms in the hands and feet.
  • Numbness and tingling in the arms legs or around the mouth.
  • Problems sleeping.


I am sure these are many of the symptom you may experience, and it can be scary especially for those with health anxiety. Onlookers just do not understand how these symptoms can cause such panic and fear.  Just explain to them that if they dove into a pool of water and could not get to the surface they would experience panic. Most untrained people can only hold their breath about 30 seconds before gasping.

Think of this – the symptoms have more to do with carbon dioxide that acidifies your blood than the lack of O2. (The body amazingly holds some 02 in reserve.)  The fear of not breathing is real and the fear can release more adrenaline that will cause rolling waves of panic or anxiety attacks. 

Another thing to consider is that when your body is not properly exchanging O2 and CO2 properly. The body will protect itself. It will shunt the oxygenated blood away from the areas that do not need it as vitally as the brain.  Therefore, you can get numbness and tingling muscle cramps and even a fast heart beat.

John Hopkins has a good explanation of  how to treat hyperventilating

This is well written and is covered in 6 easy to understand bullet points.

(Another treatment is you can breath into your cupped hands held over your mouth and many people are familiar with breathing into a paper bag.)

When they explain the pursed lip breathing, note one of the keys is to breath in through your nose and out through pursed lips. This will make more sense after our little example.*

 STEP 1  

  • Sit in a chair, slouching, leaning back in a chair like this woman.
Start by sitting in this position.
  • Place your right hand flat on your abdomen and your left hand flat on your chest.
  • Start breathing normally.

If your left-hand moves, you are chest breathing.  Your right hand is supposed to be the one that rises with each breath and as you exhale the hand will fall.  We are supposed to breath using our diaphragm which means we are supposed to belly breath.

I can do this experiment with an auditorium full of people and most of them are breathing incorrectly.

So, what happened?

If you watch an infant breath their belly goes in and out. In we lie on our backs we usually us our belly.  Somewhere along the line most people switch from belly breathing to chest breathing.

(FYI your left hand is not supposed to move at all.)

I like to use the example that men want to look muscle bound in their chest and the woman want to make her breasts more prominent. We are also somewhat obsessed about our waistline. Therefore we chest breath. Our culture does not like the looks of our belly going in and out! But it is I suppose to! 

So now that we know that most people chest breath, and then they try deep breathing of course they will feel “funny” because when you belly breath you take in more air, more 02, and you are not used to it.


Try to remain in your slouched position and make only your right-hand move.  For some it is much more difficult than it seems. After getting your right hand to move try to take in deep breaths raising your hand all the way.  Warning do this only a few times or you may begin to feel odd.  Take a break from this exercise. Take some normal breaths in between, then try again maybe at later time.

Slowly you will become aware of what deep breathing done correctly really is supposed to be.

Wish I could give you a live example.  For the next step.  Use your imagination. You will understand and soon be able to do this as well.

When I present this to a room of people we discover that most everyone is breathing incorrectly, I will give this example.

These are my numbers below,  you do not need to compare with mine just think about, and start to understand that your breathing may be the cause of many of the symptoms you may be experiencing. By understanding this, you can tell yourself not to add more fuel to the fire and speak say out loud I must be starting to hyperventilate, and start to take control of any health anxiety or terror that you may have.  You now know the symptoms for hyperventilation and telling yourself that I all it is you can often start to prevent on going attacks.


I will now breath in and out as deep as I can using only my chest. I will stand placing with my   left-hand on the chest. This works great if I have microphone that I would hold in my right hand, and the microphone makes it easy for people to hear my breaths. 

  • I take a slow deep breath in.  The audience can see my left-hand rise and can hear my breath in. On the average it will take me 9 seconds to breath in to fill chest capacity and then let it out completely slow for about 15 seconds with pursed lips

(many who try may not be able to even get to the 9 seconds a sign that maybe they have been breathing shallow. I try to control the rate of my breathing for both examples and count silently steadily 1 – 1000 / 2 – 1000)

Now if you do attempt this always breath normally for a while between steps. Do it once and then stop.  

I will now breath in and out as deep as I can using only my belly. I will stand placing with my right- hand on my belly. This works great if I have mic that I would now hold in my left hand.   

  • I will take a slow deep breath in. The audience will see my right-hand rising and can hear my breath in.

The reason I always place my right hand on my belly is that is the   RIGHT, CORRECT, way to breath.

Let’s say I take a deep breath in of 10 – 15 seconds My lungs are full. But this time when I breath out I can silently count to 25 sec as I exhale, with pursed lips.

WHY because I am using the diaphragm as it is supposed to be used.   I can take more air in with less effort.

If I practice, I can increase my deep breathing efforts. If I do not do this for a while my results decrease. These numbers are from today and I have been able to have higher numbers with belly breathing. This is not a competition it is to help you understand and desire to breathing correctly a habit.

Especially when you enter a time of anxiety or panic you will mindfully start to breath correctly.

You do not have to expand your lungs to full capacity with every breath, but this will help you understand the importance of belly breathing and start to teach you to do so more routinely.  

Normally people breath in 2 -3 seconds close your mouth and breath through your nose exhale should be 3-4 seconds. It is supposed to take longer to exhale.  

I came across this article How to Breath Properly.   I especially like the 5 principals of proper breathing and the “Breath Check Triggers”  

If I try this 1-2x per day over the period of a week I can see an improvement.  As stated, before do it only once or twice at any one time. Regretfully I often find myself reverting to chest breathing you will too just practice enough that when panic or anxiety hits you you know what to do.




Published by: Your Path to Freedom

This blog is all about attacking panic attack and anxiety with a positive mindset. Not long ago a good friend disclosed he had been a victim of panic attack for 10 years. I never would have guessed! Isn't that what you would want for yourself? Through trial and error he found what worked for him and we want to share his path to freedom with you.