You may not think about breathing during the day because it is automatic. But while we do it involuntarily, breathing is the bridge between our mind and body and a key to our health and wellness. Oxygen is vital to help our brains function properly and assess situations objectively. For this reason, learning how to regulate and improve your breathing can help you stay relaxed when you can sense your social anxiety prickling your self consciousness.
Breathing is also one of the five principles of yoga, as breathing brings more oxygen to the blood and to the brain and helps the prevention of major diseases and cure minor illness. Breathing is also a good way to get rid of waste products and toxins from our body.
It needs to be noted that the effects of breathing techniques on social anxiety disorder have not been studied in a controlled clinical setting. But many experts encourage those who have social anxiety to incorporate breathing exercises into their therapy, as breathing exercises helps reduce self consciousness and increases more relaxed state of mindfulness.
Whether you are on your bed, your office or even when out in public, deep breathing can help to reduce feelings of stress and panic. The following breathing exercises can help you keep calm and carry on with your day.
1. Equal Breathing or Sama Vritti
This is a good breathing exercise for beginners. One major benefit of Sama Vritti is its ability to calm the body and focus the mind.
How it’s done:
• Choose a comfortable sitting position and cross your legs.
• Close your eyes and focus on your natural breathing.
• Slowly count to four as you inhale and also count to four when you exhale.
• Continue this breathing exercise for a few minutes, you can also experiment on increasing the counting.
This breathing technique is particularly effective before going to bed. So if you have a hard time sleeping, instead of counting sheep try doing this breathing exercise.
2. Abdominal Breathing Technique
This is considered as a deep breathing exercise, the single most important coping technique for panic disorder or social phobia.
How It’s done:
• Place your one hand on your chest and the other on your belt line.
• Your hands tell you what part of your body and what muscles you are using to breathe.
• Take a deep breath through your nose to ensure that your diaphragm inflates enough air to stretch the lungs.
• Take a pause, you decide whatever time feels comfortable to resume.
• Open your mouth. Exhale through your mouth by pulling your belly in.
• Pause again.
• Continue and repeat the process as you wish.
You can do this any time and any place comfortable for you. This is a good stress reliever before any major exams or a nerve wrecking presentation you are about to take when you fear your social anxiety may be about to kick in and you need to calm it down.
3. Nadi Shodhana or Alternate Nostril Breathing
This is a simple but powerful technique that deeply relaxes your mind and body.
How It’s Done:
• Sit in a comfortable crosslegged position.
• Use your right hand. Hold your thumb over your right nostril.
• Inhale deeply through your left nostril.
• When you are at the peak of your inhalation, close of your left nostril with your third and fourth fingers, and then exhale smoothly through your right nostril.
• Inhale through your left nostril.
• Continue alternating the process 5 to 10 times.
If you want to refocus your mind into something or re energize, this is the right technique for that. Just don’t try this before going to bed, because it has the tendency to keep people awake.
4. Kapalabhati or “Skull Shining Breath”
Also considered as pranayama practice, which means a purification and preparation exercise before doing pranayama proper.
How It’s Done:
• Sit in a comfortable position on a mat or chair.
• Rest your hands on your knees.
• Gently close your eyes.
• Breathe normally for some time.
• Exhale once every two or three seconds for about ten to twelve times in the first round.
• Notice how the inhale happens automatically.
• Wait 30-60 seconds with everyday breathing to see how things are going.
• Do one to three rounds of 10-12 breaths (exhales) each.
• Relax with normal breathing.
It’s best to do this after you wake up every morning, it will warm up you up and shake off that musty energy and wake up the brain. However, if you are suffering from cardial problems, nasal obstruction, cold or any severe respiratory infection, it is better to consult your doctor first.
5. Progressive Relaxation Technique
This is the best technique when you want to reduce your overall body tension.
How It’s Done:
• Close your eyes and focus on tensing and relaxing each muscle group from your body for two to three seconds each.
• Start with the feet and toes, move up to the knees, thighs, rear, chest, arms, hands, neck, jaw and eyes. Make sure to maintain deep, slow breaths all throughout the process.
• To keep on track you can breathe in through the nose while the muscles tense, then breathe out through the mouth on release.
You can do this for just 5 minutes if you go for the shortened version, you just need a comfortable place, some privacy and a few minutes of your time.
6. Visualization Breathing Exercises
This is not only found to be great as a social anxiety stress reliever but is also often used to heal on minor ailments like headaches and pains.
How It’s Done:
• Close Your Eyes and Relax. Let your breathing get become slower and deeper.
• Practice Stress Relief breathing. Breathe from your diaphragm or belly instead of from your shoulders.
• Visualize. As you breathe in, imagine that relaxation is coming into your body and flowing through your limbs, reaching every part of you. When you exhale, imagine that all the stress from your body is being exhaled. After a few minutes, you should feel fuller of peace and the stress in your body should be reduced.
• Keep Breathing. You can continue this exercise for five or twenty minutes and helps you return to your normal activities with a renewed sense of strength and serenity.
This breathing exercise is very helpful for those who are having trouble sleeping.
These six different exercises can provide you with welcome relief at any time during the day. So if you start to feel socially anxious at work or in a public place, allow yourself to take 5 minutes to practice breathing properly and allow the oxygen work its magic in helping you feel calmer and more relaxed.