Once upon a time, there was a person who was feeling nervous and anxious about a strange “flash” in his eye that resembled, well, lightning. The person went to the ER to get it checked out – yes he was that nervous – and thankfully, it wasn’t anything serious. However, the experience left him feeling uneasy about his eye health, and he decided to make an appointment with an eye doctor.
The day of the appointment arrived, and the person was feeling anxious again. He was waiting outside the opthalmologist’s office, and his nerves were starting to get the best of him. That’s when he remembered the Cyclic Sigh exercises he had learned about recently on the Andrew Huberman podcast. So he turned on Youtube, found a video that guided him through the exercises, and he began to breathe deeply.
As he completed the Cyclic Sigh exercises, he felt an instant sense of relaxation. His mind and body began to calm down, and he was able to let go of his worries and fears. By the time the eye doctor called his name, he was feeling much more centered and calm. It was kind of like he was a “new guy”!
Obviously, that person was me. And let me say, my eye is basically o.k. Tack it up to middle age or whatever, and apparently “we all get these vitreous tears” and “if you see a curtain go over your eyes give me a call” is what the doctor said. So I’m cool. And I’m doubly-cool because I used my new, fancy, cyclic-sighing exercises to get through the experience.
Anxiety is a common issue that affects millions of people around the world. It can be caused by a variety of factors such as stress, fear, and worry – or even a trip to the eye doctor. Fortunately, there are several ways to manage anxiety and prevent it from interfering with our daily lives. Today we will be discussing some of the most effective techniques for managing anxiety when it comes to deep breathing exercises, mindfulness, and cognitive-behavioral strategies.
As you may have guessed from my eye doctor experience, deep breathing exercises are a great way to reduce stress and anxiety. When we’re feeling anxious, our breathing tends to become shallow and rapid, which can exacerbate our feelings of anxiety. Deep breathing, on the other hand, slows down our breathing and helps us relax.
“You mentioned ‘cyclic sighing’. What is that?” you ask.
Physiological Sighing, aka Cyclic Sighing
Some call it physiological sighing, and others call it cyclic sighing. It goes by both names.
Cyclic sighing involves taking a deep breath in, not too deep, where you basically feel like you can’t breathe in anymore, and then, when you feel like stopping, you actually take a super tiny rest – and then, you take another short breath, hold it for a few seconds, and then do a long exhale with a sigh. Repeat this cycle even one or two times, and you may find that your anxiety has decreased.
Here is a great video on the breath work timing! I recommend doing this at .75 the speed (which you can adjust in settings):
The Science of Cyclic Sighing
Research has shown that the physiological sigh serves an important physiological function. When we take a physiological sigh, we are increasing the amount of oxygen in our lungs, which can improve lung function and promote gas exchange. In addition, the physiological sigh can help to reset the respiratory system by regulating the levels of carbon dioxide in the body.
Put another way, we are effectively flushing out excess carbon dioxide from the lungs and increasing the oxygen supply.
The physiological sigh can also have a positive impact on our mental and emotional state. Studies have found that taking a deep breath can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the “rest and digest” response in the body. This can help to reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, and promote feelings of calm and relaxation.
The Cyclic Sigh is actually a very natural and deep breath that we take several times per hour. You may not notice it because it happens automatically, and it’s not under conscious control.
The Box Breathing Technique comes in handy when you are feeling stressed and anxiety. Also known as square breathing, this technique involves taking slow, deep breaths to heighten performance, concentration, and relieve stress. By inhaling through your nose for five seconds, holding in your breath for five seconds, exhaling through your mouth for five seconds, and holding your exhale for another five seconds, you can calm your nerves and regulate your autonomic nervous system. (Some people say 4 seconds, you choose!)
Box Breathing works by slowing down your breathing rate, which helps calm the mind and regulate stress. This technique is easy to incorporate into your mindfulness practice – taking just five to ten minutes per day to practice can do wonders for your overall health. Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a moment to do a set of Box Breathing, identify what’s causing your stress, and use the technique to remain calm and focused during stressful events, whether it’s before a big conference call or at the start of a shift.
This is popular with Navy Seals – partly because it helps us to stay in a locus of control by focusing on our breath work, and also because it as well, activates the parasympathetic system.
Wim Hof Breathing Method
And of course, there’s the Wim Hof breathing method. This method involves taking 30 deep breaths, exhaling, and then holding your breath for as long as you can, and then quickly inhaling for 10-15 seconds. Do this 3-4 times. This technique has been shown to help reduce anxiety and improve overall well-being.
Here is a link to walk you through it:
In addition to deep breathing exercises, mindfulness is another effective technique for managing anxiety. Mindfulness involves being fully present in the moment and focusing on your thoughts and feelings without judgment. This can be achieved through meditation, yoga, or simply taking a few moments to focus on your breath. The Sam Harris app on Apple is fantastic.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns that can contribute to anxiety. For example, if you tend to do catastrophic thinking, and imagine the worst-case scenario in a given situation, CBT can help you reframe those thoughts and think more positively.
Trained therapists have extensive experience in providing CBT to clients and can help you develop the skills you need to manage your mental health and live a more fulfilling life.
At Sunflower Counseling MT, we offer CBT and a range of other therapeutic techniques and services to help clients. These include mindfulness-based therapies, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, which have been shown to be effective in reducing stress and anxiety. We also offer trauma-focused therapies, including EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), to help clients work through past traumatic experiences and build resilience.
In conclusion, managing anxiety can be challenging, but deep breathing exercises such as cyclic sighing, box breathing, and the Wim Hof breathing method can all be effective for reducing anxiety. Mindfulness and cognitive-behavioral strategies such as CBT can also be helpful for managing anxiety. Remember that it’s important to find what works best for you!
With time and practice, you can learn to manage your anxiety and live a more peaceful and fulfilling life.
John Michaels is a local Missoula author who graduated from Brown University in creative writing. In between raising kids, he spends his time meandering around downtown Missoula, writing screenplays, playing chess, and working at Sunflower Counseling, MT.