Anxiety can be crippling. It doesn’t mean we aren’t strong or that we’re powerless, but anxiety really can bring us to our knees. That’s why some people show up to emergency rooms thinking they are dying of a heart attack when, in reality, they are in the throes of a panic attack. I’ve seen it happen in airports and on flights, which is why I wanted to share how to use deep breathing to beat travel anxiety.
It’s not a sign of weakness that you live with anxiety. In fact, it’s a sign that your body’s natural response to stress is working. Whether it’s immediate danger or the first day of school, when we feel fear, our bodies react the same way.
That’s right, it’s not all in your head. We go through physical changes when we feel anxious. Maybe our legs feel like jelly or our pulse quickens and we start to sweat. The more stressed we are, the tougher it is to suppress that fight-or-flight response to whatever situation we’re in. This can be especially difficult if we experience anxiety on vacation.
It’s a terrible sensation, when it feels like our world is swirling around us — but it’s possible to find your focus. No one’s suggesting it will be easy, but with practice, it will get easier.
How to Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing
Most of the time, like most people, you’re probably taking shallow breaths from your chest. While that’s fine in regular, everyday life, it’s much more effective to use diaphragmatic breathing when you’re under stress. I’ve often been amazed by how just a slight shift in breathing can make sure a huge impact.
Some people refer to diaphragmatic breathing as “belly breathing.” It doesn’t matter what you call it as long as it works, right? Once you get the hang of it, you’ll have one more tool to help you regain control when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Here’s how to practice diaphragmatic breathing:
- Find a comfortable position in a quiet place.
- Place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your stomach.
- Inhale through your nose while counting to three and allow your stomach to rise. The hand on your chest should not move.
- Take a short pause, then exhale to the count of three as your stomach falls.
- Continue breathing in this rhythmic pattern for as long as you need.
It seems so simple, but is very effective. If you’re trying this for the first time because you’re currently feeling anxious, it might take a few minutes to get the hang of it — and that’s okay. Keep practicing, even when you’re not experiencing anxiety, and it will get easier.
How To Calm Anxiety By Exhaling
What’s one of the first things people say to someone who is having an anxiety attack? “Take some deep breaths.” While that’s great in theory, there are times when that just doesn’t work — at least, not at first. When someone is truly panicked and they continue to try taking breaths, they could end up hyperventilating. Not only will this increase their worries, but it could also make them pass out!
Sometimes, it’s more effective to focus on lengthening your exhale. This is so helpful in those moments when you feel like you just can’t catch your breath. Again, this sounds really easy (and it can be), but even breathing can be hard when you’re being punched in the throat by anxiety!
- Focus on pushing all of the air out of your lungs.
- Let your lungs fill with air naturally. Don’t worry about taking a deep breath.
- Every time you exhale, try to draw it out a little longer.
- Once you feel ready, consciously exhale for two seconds longer than you inhale. For example, if your inhalation lasts four seconds, exhale for six seconds.
- Continue with this pattern until you start to feel better.
It doesn’t matter what position you’re in while you’re doing this, just focus on your exhalations. Don’t think about what’s happening around you and don’t worry about taking care of anyone else. If you are traveling with a small child, either secure them in a stroller or car seat while you regain control. For a few moments, give yourself this time. It’s going to be okay.
As the name suggests, equal breathing involves inhaling for the same amount of time as you exhale. This method of deep breathing for anxiety is very simple and can be done anywhere. We’ve found it quite helpful when stressful situations suddenly arise (such as turbulence on a flight!).
You can be in any position really, but it’s probably better to be sitting or lying down. Try to get as comfortable as possible and do your best to shut out any distractions around you. Just focus on your breath.
- With your eyes shut, breathe normally breathe for several breaths.
- Then, inhale through your nose while slowly counting: 1-2-3-4.
- Exhale through your mouth for the same four-second count.
- As you practice equal breathing, pay attention to how your lungs expand and release.
Continue breathing in this way until you begin to feel the tension easing. It can take a while and you may have to do several rounds, but equal breathing can be emotionally cleansing and helpful when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
4-7-8 Breathing for Anxiety & Insomnia
It was 2016 and I’d just found out that, despite having a three-month-old baby at home, I was already pregnant with twins. Sitting in my boss’s office, I struggled to get my emotions under control while I relayed the news. She asked me if I’d ever tried 4-7-8 breathing. All I could do was shake my head. Once I tried it, though, I never forgot it.
This type of breathing is typically used by people who are struggling to get to sleep, so if your travel anxiety is keeping you up at night, this is something that might help. It’s a form of deep breathing to beat travel anxiety and here’s how to do it:
- Place the tip of your tongue on the tissue behind your top front teeth.
- Exhale completely.
- Breathe in quietly through your nose for 4 seconds.
- Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
- Exhale forcefully for 8 seconds, making a “whoosh” sound.
- Repeat up to four times.
Some people I know say that this helps put them to sleep in just a couple minutes. While I haven’t had that level of success, I can say that this has helped me relax before bed many, many times. It’s a lifesaver — and maybe that’s why I’m still friends with my former boss after all these years!
I’m sure I’ll come back to this post to add things I’ve forgotten, but for now, these are some of the deep breathing techniques we use to beat travel anxiety. You don’t have to wait to use these techniques until you’re about to board a plan, though! Try using them any time you’re feeling stressed.
Do you have any tried and true ways of using deep breathing to get your anxiety or stress under control? We’re always looking for new coping strategies. Please share a comment!