dealing with social anxiety - breath workIt’s kind of crazy the number of draft posts I have queued up here in Social Expression.

Some days it’s hard to know which direction to go in.

Sometimes the overwhelm causes me anxiety and lots of self-doubt and fear creeps in.

But more often than not, I trust my gut and come up with a new topic that is pertinent in my life that I hope will benefit others by sharing it, and the writing seems to flow out easily.

Not only that, but I have trained myself to respond and relax quickly when overwhelm and anxiety shows up.

That’s exactly why I want to talk about the power of breathing for dealing with anxiety, which of course applies directly to having social anxiety as well.

Lately, I’ve been working with, and noticing the powerful effects of breath on my life pretty much constantly.  Even though I’ve overcome social anxiety, I still get bouts of general anxiety plenty of the time.

Especially when I have a ton of stuff to do, and get caught in my head trying to overthink where to go next.

I have many ways I use to deal with this, but certainly the power of mindfulness and breath are at the foundations, and often all that’s needed.

I never used to pay much attention to my breathing, especially before getting into the constant practice of mindfulness as well as my martial arts practice (Tai Chi Chuan).  I find it very useful to rationalize the importance of breath in this way:

We can survive without food for about five to seven days, we can survive without water for a couple of days max.

But you can’t survive even two minutes without breathing.

Doesn’t that tell you something about the importance of breathing and how it affects the quality of your life?

It opens my eyes every time I think about breathing in this way, and so I bring my attention to it as much as possible.  This also has the great effect of training my body to naturally breathe in a deeper and more relaxed fashion.

Steps to Developing your Breath Power for Dissolving Anxiety/Overwhelm

1) Awareness of Breath

Now when I talk about breathing here, I am not just talking about paying attention to your breathing only when you’re anxious (though for some of you right now, that might be nearly 100% of the time).

Starting with being aware of how you’re breathing (or not breathing) as much as possible is key.

I remember hearing a quote at one point, I believe it was from Hawaiian culture, about how Westerners don’t know how to breathe.

We often breathe shallowly, only in our chest, not expanding into the belly and really into all six sides of our body.

No wonder we’re so stressed out and filled with anxiety, much of the time, rushing to get the next thing done, barely present in our lives, if at all.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to build awareness around breath:

Am I even aware of my breath?

How can I bring my attention/mindfulness more to it?

How shallow or deep is my breathing?

Where am I breathing in my body?  Chest?  Stomach?  Back?  Out through my nose only?  Mouth Only?  Both?

What is the quality of my breath?  How fast or slow am I breathing?

Just asking these questions will naturally start to bring awareness to it.  Now it’s time to play around and shift your breathing to see what happens.

2) Shifting Your Breath with Six-Sided Breathing

There are so many ways to shift your breath. But I recommend keeping it simple.  If you are anxious it’s near 100%, it’s likely your breathing is shallow and constricted, more rapid and only into your chest (not belly).

Even on your most relaxed days, your breathing probably isn’t as deep and expansive as it could be, because the range of motion/breath your body can operate within, will be limited.

Here’s a simple process I recommend to expand the power of your breathing, using “six-sided breathing”, which can be done anywhere.

Frist, bring your full attention to your breath (step 1 above)

First Side:

Start breathing more deeply into your belly.

Do this for six times, with a count six on the inhale, six on the exhale.

Now expand your breath into your chest.

Second Side:

Now breathe into your entire back, continue breathing deeply.

Third Side:

Now put breath down into your pelvis and down through your legs.  Six reps at six counts.

Fourth Side:

Breathe up into your shoulders, neck and head.  Count as above.

Fifth & Sixth Sides:

Simultaneously breathe into your left and right sides.  You know the drill – six repetitions at six counts.

Now breathing slowly and deeply, breath into all six sides, which covers all three dimensions at once.  Do this for as long as you like.

As you continue to practice this, you won’t have to maintain the six reps, six counts, that’s just to give you a steady guideline and to help you focus when first learning this technique, though it is useful to go back the the counts from time to time.

To learn more breathing techniques for dealing with social anxiety, check out:

Free Your Breath, Free Your Life: How Conscious Breathing Can Relieve Stress, Increase Vitality, and Help You Live More Fully

A key to this exercise: In order to connect all six-sides of breath, you have to use your mind.  When I say “mind” in this case, I am not talking about your mind-chattering mind, you know the one that creates all the self-doubt, negative thoughts of social anxiety, etc.

You are not thinking linearly, thoughts like “ok connect the front side, then the back side.”  It is more like a “feeling mind” or I’d even say “circular mind” where you can simultaneously be aware of many things at once, but with little or no thought.

There is very little self-talk, if any in this deeper mind space.  If it’s hard for you to feel this kind of mindful mind space, I highly recommend daily meditation as a way to cultivate it more.

This mind disposition I am talking about is very connected to the body.

I have learned this concept to where it is engrained in me due to lots of meditation practice and also Tai Chi practice, where the difficult martial arts movements must come from the mind into the body, linking everything together.

This helps connect the mind and body so they synchronize, instead of being disconnected, like they probably are most of the time when you are caught up in your social anxiety.

The effects are profound.  Without synchronizing the mind and the body, it is difficult to feel relaxed in your life, with or without social anxiety.

Believe me when I say, there are plenty of people out there who don’t have social anxiety, that live completely in their heads.  You’ll be a step ahead of everyone else if you learn to connect your mind and body with your breath.

Yoga is also a great practice for this, because you have to synchronize the mind and the body as well.

Any type of exercise form that includes mindfulness is high on the list for this kind of mindfulness/breath training, because traditions like Tai Chi and Yoga understand the vital importance of breath on quality of life.

3) Practicing Daily

Doing the above practice daily (and several times a day when possible) should start to have amazing effects on your breathing and how you feel anxiety in your body.

Of course combining this in combination with mindfulness meditation is even more powerful and can be done simultaneously.

As I said before, it’s about changing your breathing regulation overall, not just when you’re anxious.

Certainly it’s very useful to practice breathing for soothing anxiety when it shows up, but retraining our breathing is fundamental to preventing anxiety from overtaking us and controlling our lives.

You will be able to respond more quickly and relax when your body is trained to breathe profoundly.

I know the power of breath for dealing with anxiety has been very powerful for me.

Since mindfulness and breathing go hand in hand, the more you practice mindfulness the easier it is to pay attention to and learn to shift your breathing.

Discover how to beat social anxiety with mindfulness, breath work, compassion and much more in my Dissolve Social Anxiety Home-Recovery Program.

Leave comments and questions below as always, I look forward to hearing from you!


    2 replies to "The Power Of Breath Work For Dealing With Social Anxiety"

    • lino

      what 3 dimentions? when i breath in must i visualise all 6 side in sequence? E.i belly, chest, hips…and on the opposite with the out breath? thank David. You are a god sent!!! Lino

      • David Hamilton

        Lino – the six sides represent all three dimensions. When you inhale, you expand with your breath in all 6 directions (3 dimensions). When you exhale all 6 sides contracts. It’s just one extra way to do breathing. You can always just go to simple diaphramatic/belly breathing if this is too confusing, not to worry.

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