Contrary to what most people think, using deep breathing for anxiety is contraindicated. To be more exact, using deep breathing during periods of high anxiety or panic is contraindicated. The reason comes from the fact that when faced with anxiety, many people tend to do one of three things: distract themselves, escape, or avoid the situation that is causing them distress, which in turn increases the likelihood of having a similar response the next time one is faced with anxiety, and increases the likelihood of having more anxiety. In other words, deep breathing becomes an avoidance behavior, much like using a fast-acting benzodiazepine medications such as Xanax or Ativan.

At the same time, you should know that exercises like deep breathing can in fact reduce anxiety in the moment. After all, I tell many of my clients that “you can’t have an anxious mind if you have a calm body,” and so if you can calm one of the two down, you’re likely to feel better soon. My recommendation is for deep breathing and similar exercises to be used on a routine basis to reduce your baseline level of stress and anxiety, and to use these strategies even when you’re calm. Ultimately, the fundamental goal for treating anxiety is actually to help people learn to tolerate the unpleasant physical sensations of anxiety and to learn intuitively that they are fleeting and benign.

If you're interested in learning more about working together, contact Charlotte Counseling and Wellness.

CCW offers innovative and evidence-based options for busy professionals. Charlotte is a bustling and fast-paced city where it’s easy to become stressed, overwhelmed, and anxious. By using the most cutting-edge therapies available, we help people improve the way they deal with everyday stressors and more complicated issues.

John Clarke