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Anxious thoughts or feelings of panic are perfectly normal when we are making significant changes to our behavior. You might have worked on mindful breathing while involved in a program of intensive therapy. Breathing is something we don’t think about – it just happens. We go through our life inhaling and exhaling without thinking anything about it. Only when we experience the inability to catch our breath that we become consciously aware of our breath flow

What is Mindfulness Breathing? 

Mindfulness refers to a conscious awareness of our situation and what we may be doing at any given moment. It means that we do not think about the next thing we have to do, and we don’t think about what we may have done before. We simply learn to be in the moment—whatever and wherever that moment happens to be.

When you experience long-term recovery from addiction issues or learning to control intrusive thoughts associated with mental health issues, learning to breathe through a particular moment can positively influence responses. 


Triggers are all around us – internal or external factors may cause them. External triggers, as the name suggests, are caused by our social environment. They may come in the form of people, places, and of course, the substance we may have used before. Internal triggers involve complex emotional responses to external triggers. For example, you might become angry at returning to a location where you were given your first drugs. You may feel uncomfortable or lonely if you are not invited to a party over the holidays because you are recovering from alcohol issues. When we feel triggered, helpless, out of control, and in danger of relapsing, we compound already present feelings of stress. 

As you develop mindful breathing techniques, it might be useful to understand the three main different types of breathing.  

Restful Breathing 

Restful breathing is the sort of breathing you do without thinking. This breathing is used every day, and it is essential for talking. With restful breathing, only the lower portion of our lungs fill with air. In other words, just enough for us to create the sound that we need to speak. 

Panic Breathing 

Panic breathing is the breathing that many are familiar with when feeling stress, anxiety, or exertion. If you have ever run for the bus, you will remember how quick and strained your breathing felt in your chest and throat. You might have also felt a tightness in your throat. This is similar to when we are stressed. 

With panic breathing, only the top half of our lungs fill with air. When we breathe rapidly, our throat and chest become tight. That tightness further restricts the airway causing a vicious circle of restricted breathing and a sense of being unwell. When we breathe this way, less oxygen goes to our brain, making us feel dizzy and giving us headaches. This lack of oxygen can push us into even more profound levels of stress.  

Mindfulness Breathing

Just as panic breathing uses only the top half of the lungs, and relaxed breathing uses the lower half of our lungs, mindfulness breathing uses all of our lungs. Inhaling slowly and becoming conscious of the breath moving through our body allows us to use our lungs to their full capacity. In turn, more oxygen pours into the blood, which flows to the brain, feeding it with more oxygen. What is the effect of mindfulness breathing? A nice, relaxed body and mind.  

Mindfulness breathing is the breathing that professional actors and singers will use before they go on stage, calming the nerves before a performance. 

How Mindfulness Breathing Can Help 

Have you ever caught your thoughts racing through your head? You’re in the middle of doing one thing, and you’re thinking about having to do something else on your list. While you’re thinking about doing the next thing, you might be lamenting about not having enough time to complete the thing you did before that. The constant mental leaping from one subject to another creates tension. This tension in the brain builds pressure in the chest and throat, affecting breathing. 

When you are recovering from or working through addiction and trauma issues, creating additional stress within the body leaves you unprepared for the times you need to deal with moments of real challenge and stress. 

Learn to become aware of your thinking. The next time you find your thoughts leaping from one activity to another, stand or sit still, and inhale deeply. After a few seconds, exhale slowly. As you do this, become aware of a feeling of slowing down, listening to the sounds around you, and focusing only on where you are in that particular moment. Before leaping back into action again, take a moment to feel gratitude for the gift of slowing down. 

Even if meditation is not your thing, becoming aware of your breathing provides one more tool to prevent or control anxiety. Begin by setting aside five minutes of each activity that you do just to breathe. Don’t think about the next thing to do; simply focus on where you are at that moment.

The next time you must deal with stressful triggers, slow down, take deep breaths, and try to think why a particular situation is bringing back unpleasant memories or thoughts. Rather than panicking through the moment, slowing down will give back a sense of control that you may feel slipping away. This is not to say that you continue doing something uncomfortable. The best thing may be to leave the situation. But it is far better to leave that situation in a way that makes you feel in control. Remember, you are not a victim; you are a survivor. 

Breathing Exercises and Creating Tension

The steps to follow a simple breathing exercise are as follows:

  1. Sit comfortably in a chair.
  2. Place both feet flat on the floor.
  3. Relax your hands by your sides
  4. Sit with your back as straight as you possibly can while staying relaxed.
  5. Close your eyes
  6. Close your mouth, inhaling as deeply as you can and becoming aware of the breath going through your body
  7. Hold the breath for one or two seconds.
  8. Slowly exhale, breathing out through the mouth, allowing the air to escape from your body.
  9. Become aware of the breath flowing out of your body

Practice this exercise several times a day. If it makes you feel more comfortable, you can listen to relaxing music. However, you must make sure that you are free from distraction, and you can focus on breathing, thinking of nothing more than where you are at that moment. 

While it may seem meditative, the exercise’s point is to get you to feel the physiological difference in your body between stressed and relaxed states. You might follow on after each sequence of deep breathing by creating tension within your body, so you learn how different your body feels between the two. To create tension in your body, you can:

  1. Sit as before
  2. Relax your hands by your sides
  3. Place your feet flat on the floor.
  4. Following the exhale, clench your fists, creating tension in the lower arms and up into the shoulders.
  5. Create tension in the legs up to the hips
  6. Tense the facial muscles, your shoulders, and your neck

During the exercise, become aware of how your body feels in a stressed or tense state. On release, take a deep breath in then out. 

Can you feel a difference between when your body is relaxed with breath flowing freely through the body? How does it feel when your body is tense? Can you recall a time when your body has felt this way? 

Going Forward 

Mindfulness is a state of awareness that we can carry through into our daily living. By incorporating moments of conscious breathing activities, we learn to control our behaviors and responses during times of stress. 

Developing conscious breathing techniques can help incorporate moments of mindfulness into our daily living. During these practice moments, we appreciate the ability to lift long-held tension away from the body in favor of a conscious approach to relaxed breathing. We can now exert more control during stressful situations during our recovery. Located within the tranquility of Ocala National Forest, Florida, The Guest House provides residential and outpatient programs for all forms of addiction, trauma, depression, and other mental health and substance abuse issues. Set amongst peaceful, elegant surroundings teeming with wildlife, there’s ample opportunity to enjoy tranquil reflection on your journey toward recovery. Individualized treatment options include psychodrama, meditation, brain spotting, equine therapy, art, music, and group support. The Guest House Ocala prides itself on providing a holistic and supportive approach to long term wellness and support. Tired of waiting to love the life you deserve? Call Guest House now at (855) 483-7800. Our staff can’t wait to meet you.