Breathwork for Depression and Anxiety Relief 

Which is the best breathing practice for you?

Have you ever found yourself spiraling into a bout of depression? Or found your head spinning out of control about one thousand things you have zero control over? It’s a normal Tuesday afternoon and suddenly you find yourself paralyzed with negative mind-chatter preventing you from being of any use to yourself or others. 

It’s so draining!!! But you can’t stop. The stories in your head are locking you into another spell of self-doubt and pity and you can’t find your way off this runaway train. 

There is a way to help, and you already have full access to it; it’s your breath. The trick is learning the right ways to utilize it for your best outcomes. 

Breathwork is amazing because it works for everybody. However, not all breathing patterns are right for everybody. 

There are literally hundreds of breathing patterns and ways to manipulate this very natural flow of energy. The best breath practice for you will vary and most likely change over time. As a general guide, there are 3 things you should look at when you decide to use breathwork as a way to relieve the stress factor associated with depression and anxiety. 

  1. Identifying your triggers
  2. Identifying your personal coping mechanisms
  3. Identifying what breathing practices feel most innately supportive to your nervous system

Taking a close look at these 3 things can help you find a starting point that will set you up for success in your breathing practices. The harder part is continuously showing up daily to do the breathwork. Breathwork is similar to meditation as it is developed over time and the more you show up, especially on the days you’d rather not, the closer you come to breaking barriers in your life that have previously held you back and kept you stuck.

Identifying your triggers

Triggers are those things in our environment that send our brains into survival mode. When you are having an emotional reaction to something or someone that feels out of your control or induces a strong desire to harm yourself or others you’re being triggered. If you have been through any trauma, then you understand how any reminder of that event triggers an emotional reaction that feels like you are experiencing the event all over again. 

As you start to identify your triggers you need to ask yourself if something is truly a trigger or if you are just uncomfortable, which would fall more under the lines of comfort zone barriers. Verywellmind.com has a great article that takes a closer look at triggers and what they mean that I found helpful. 

Not only will identifying your triggers be helpful for your personal growth, it is also the first step in narrowing the breath practices best suited for you. How you cope with these triggers is the next identifier to narrow even more. 

Identifying your personal coping mechanisms

Throughout your life, you have learned different strategies to help protect yourself when you sense danger. When your triggers signal the alarm your brain immediately starts putting things into play designed to keep you safe. Often these mechanisms are outdated and end up holding you back from growth. In turn, you end up full of unnecessary anxiety or become depressed. 

Survival mode looks different for everyone so it’s important to get to know how you cope. 

When you feel triggers do you…

  • Get angry and start moving into an aggressive state? 
  • Get frustrated and feel completely overwhelmed?
  • Fall into self-loathing and allow the thoughts of worthlessness to set in?
  • Feel hopeless and fall into destructive behavior?
  • Put on a happy face and bury all the pain until you feel like you might burst?
  • Feel victimized and look for someone else to blame?

Odds are you do one or many of these things. Other less common coping mechanisms might look like…

  • Netflix binging
  • Over or under eating
  • Procrastination
  • Excessive cleaning
  • Not getting out of bed

There are a ton of reasons we resort back to our patterns, and it stems from our reptilian brain working in survival mode. Becoming aware of how you cope when things feel out of control will give you a starting line for your breath journey. 

Breathwork is designed to support you

To simplify, when you get triggered your emotional center either rises to a head spin of thoughts and you get anxious, or you collapse, and start self-isolating, resulting in a more depressed outlook. 

When you invite breathwork to the table as a healthy way to cope and break free from these patterns, you will find that what works best for a more anxious system is different than what works best for a depressed system. Gauging on where you currently stand will be helpful. 

  • Do you hang out more in the fight or flight realm? 
  • Or the rest and recover realm?

Let’s take a look at both.

Fight or Flight

If you are someone who is easily anxious then we are talking about the Sympathetic Nervous System, or your fight or flight response system. The better place to start breathing is with more relaxed patterns. These calming practices help to guide your nervous system out of chaos and into a more relaxed or balanced state. 

For instance, if you are someone who copes by getting angry or gets overly anxious, then a more calming breath practice like 4-7-8 or 5×5 breathing would be more productive practice than something like circular breathing or breath of fire where you are consciously speeding up your breath. 

Allowing your exhales to be longer than your inhales slows down the mind and brings you out of panic and into balance. Balancing breathwork is always a great go-to when feeling triggers. Equal parts of inhales and exhales help both sides of the spectrum find balance. 5×5 breathing or 3-part breathing are both great starting points. 

Rest & Recover

The other side of this coin is those who carry a more depressed nervous system and lean towards the rest and recover or Parasympathetic Nervous System. Those who lose all energy when triggered. More active breathwork that brings the energy up will be the more effective way to start. Breathwork that activates the system like bellows breath that uses your stomach as a way to pump air quickly in and out, as well as more holotropic practices that double your breathing rate. Practice breathwork that really drives up your body’s energy and activates your nervous system. 

Bringing your energy levels up is going to be an important part of breaking patterns. You want to activate the heart by increasing the air and blood flow moving through it. This helps release feelings of lethargy. 

Breathwork is about learning how to live a healthy life by utilizing the power of your breath. Something we all have access to and with practice can more actively control. 

Any mindfulness practice comes with a certain amount of allowance. If you want change, you have to do something different, and this is where people get stuck. 

This is not an overnight pill out of anxiety or depression. Breathwork is a tool to add to your box to keep you mentally sound when you feel triggered and find yourself prone to certain unhealthy coping mechanisms. 

When you are interested in learning more and want a breath coach to keep you accountable, then check out Breath Mindset, my 4-week online breath course designed to help you breathe into a life you love.