By Gabe Sanders Ph.D., NSCA-CSCS
Chronic pain and anxiety can coexist with each other and these complications can make daily life very challenging for many people, young and old. Chronic pain is a debilitating sensation of pain that does not go away and often patients are unable to “escape” the pain they are feeling.
Pain is an interesting construct because every single person perceives pain differently. Some people have high pain tolerances or thresholds while others want to scream and cry over the little scratch on their skin.
Usually, intermittent or constant chronic pain will lead to anxiety because there is no escape for many people. It is also possible that people suffer from anxiety and that mental anxiety leads to physical pain. Regardless of the origin of pain and anxiety, breathing techniques to reduce both can be an effective tactic that has been around for centuries.
Breathing techniques can reduce pain and anxiety
Recent research has set out to investigate how breathing techniques can reduce pain and anxiety. The researchers hypothesized that regulated and controlled breathing techniques can enhance neural circuits in the body that control pain and anxiety. Their findings suggest that by slowly reducing breathing rates, the body can deactivate neurons that can significantly reduce anxiety and similar behaviors.
While there is not a single breathing technique that has been determined to be the most successful, the best way to start is to consciously take a deep breath in and slowly breathe out. For people suffering from various types of pulmonary diseases, a therapist will recommend this technique called pursed-lip breathing.
Pursed lip breathing is a clinically effective way to increase the amount of air that enters the lungs. Increasing air into the lungs continuously can drastically improve the way you feel. More oxygen enhances brain function and the feeling of adequate oxygen can also reduce anxiety.
Try this- Pursed lip breathing…
Pursed lip breathing is accomplished simply by breathing in through your nose for a two count. Then, pucker your lips and breathe out through your mouth for 3-4 counts, then repeat. This slow form of breathing can increase the oxygen available in your body which is delivered to working tissue and it can help reduce your anxiety.
Liu, Shijia, et al. “Identification of a novel breathing circuit that controls pain and anxiety.” BioRxiv (2020).
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