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You’re having a panic attack. It feels like an elephant is sitting on your chest. You’re short of breath and gasping for air. You want to breathe as hard as you can but this is the worst thing you could do. That’s why you need a technique called diaphragmatic breathing.

Diaphragmatic breathing means deep breathing. When you have a panic attack, your heart is racing and adrenaline is pumping through your body. Your breath speeds up and you try to gulp in lots of air by taking short, quick breaths. This makes you feel lightheaded and dizzy, which makes you more alarmed, which makes you breathe harder, and so on (see the diagram below).

can't brathe


You need to take control with your diaphragm. The diaphragm sounds like a character from Greek mythology but it’s really the muscle below your ribs. It helps you to take full, deep breaths. And most importantly, it counteracts panicked breathing, which is fast and shallow.

Guided MP3s For Diaphragmatic Breathing

  • (Note that you do not need to sign up for dropbox, the server that hosts these files, in order to download them).
  • Introduction to diaphragmatic breathing.
  • Planned Practice – This track provides basic guidance on proper breathing. Set up a time and listen to this track often. It’s the preparation you do on a daily basis. The planned practice is also a great tool for general stress relief not just panic attack.
  • During a Panic Attack – This track help you when you have a panic attack. You can listen when you’re not stressed to get the hang of it but you can also listen during an attack if possible.

Even if you aren’t a panicked breather, diaphragmatic breathing is a great relaxation techniques for anyone.

Why Practice Even If You Don’t Panic

  • You may not breathe with your diaphragm when you’re stressed or panicked.
  • You can improve the efficiency of your breathing with practice.
  • Regular diaphragmatic breathing is a stress-management technique that can help stress, anxiety, depression, and lower your blood pressure.

Are You A Chest or Diaphragm Breather?

  • Sit upright.
  • Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly.
  • Breathe normally.
  • Which hand moves the most? This is your dominant way of breathing.
  • If you’re having trouble feeling the breath, lay on the floor and try again.

Instructions To Put Your Diaphragm To Work

  • The Vacuum Technique

    • Blow out a little more air than usual through your mouth. (Create a vacuum in your lungs).
    • Hold your breath for a couple seconds.
    • Breathe in by letting the air fill your lungs. (Let the vacuum suck in the air).
    • Your stomach should pop out.
  • Tips

    • You shouldn’t work to breathe in. You’ve created a vacuum and you’re just allowing the vacuum to suck in air.
    • If it’s not working, you may be forcing the breath with your lungs (the hand on your chest will move in this case).
    • Just relax. Let the air come in. (The hand on your stomach will move).

Fight The Urge To Breathe Hard

Obviously, breathing during a panic attack is the hardest time. The urge will be to work to catch your breath, to breathe to get over the panic attack. You have to slow down: breathe more slowly, talk more slowly, pause between breathes, and use your stomach not your chest. Remind yourself that you won’t pass out – that’s just the fear talking.

This is an effective tool but it only works to the extent that you put time and energy into it. As you do this, you’ll find it easier and easier to breathe in a natural, fuller way and kick that damn elephant off your chest.

Photo by Internet Archive Book Images

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