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In addition to other treatment options, breathing techniques are commonly recommended for management of anxiety and panic. I am able to find good information on techniques, but I have difficulty interpreting information on the mechanisms for how it works, and whether it is truly effective.

How could breathing lessen symptoms of anxiety, or reduce severity of episodes?

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  • Welcome to Health.SE! For a number of reasons outlined in this meta post, we can not, and will not, give personal medical advice. If you have a question regarding your personal health, you should see a doctor. For further information on how this site is supposed to work, what is on-topic or not, you can take the tour, visit the How to Ask page and Medical Sciences Meta. I have voted to close this question and this post explains question closure.
    – Carey Gregory
    Jul 8 '18 at 15:41
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    I significantly altered the post to meet site criteria in order to answer it, because it is an area of interest and I think this may help people understand anxiety better. If you disagree with the edit, you can revert it, but the question will be closed for personal advice request by site guidelines.
    – DoctorWhom
    Jul 8 '18 at 19:18
  • psychology.stackexchange.com/a/18912 provides some detail about some breathing techniques which help and some which can have serious health consequences if carried out when you shouldn't. Jul 10 '18 at 5:53
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Neuroscience is complex; this is a simplification. To summarize: yes, breathing techniques and other meditation and biofeedback methods have been shown to be effective for reducing anxiety and panic, as has been cognitive behavioral therapy. Psychotherapy is a critical part of treatment of anxiety disorders. Some people benefit from medications like SSRIs as well. BUT because anxiety might be a symptom of a medical condition, it's important to see a doctor to be formally diagnosed, and receive individualized treatment recommendations.

Generalized anxiety disorder is, at its root, over-activity of the sympathetic nervous system. It is when the normal human "fight or flight" response is extended and/or exaggerated. Panic attacks occur when that gets stuck in a positive feedback loop.

Physical symptoms of anxiety or panic are due to this sympathetic hyper-activation: increased heart rate, blood pressure, respirations, alertness, sensory awareness (including pain), sweating, speed of reaction, gastrointestinal upset, etc. It helps to understand that anxiety and panic disorders develop more frequently in people who have experienced severe traumatic stressors, especially during childhood, during which their neurological system becomes conditioned to overreact. During "fight or flight" much of our mental processing gets caught up in the limbic system (center of emotion) rather than engaging the frontal cortex (center of logical reasoning), which is why anxiety can impair clarity of thought, decision-making, and memory.

Deep breathing, mediation, and certain biofeedback techniques can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, thereby decreasing sympathetic tone. With practice it can interrupt even the positive feedback loop of panic. This not only reduces the physical symptoms, it allows our frontal cortex to engage in processing input and thoughts more logically. The long term impact of these techniques can be profound.

Resources below are as a supplement for professional evaluation and treatment.

References

Resources

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  • All of your references are about breathing techniques but skimming through them, you made some psychophysical and neurological claims which are not referenced. Can you please rectify that? Especially, "anxiety and panic disorders develop more frequently in people who have experienced severe traumatic stressors, especially during childhood" Jul 10 '18 at 5:46
  • There is tons of literature on that, and it's a rapidly expanding field of study. I put in one with a clear abstract, but there are others that go deeper into the proposed mechanisms for how trauma changes neurobiology.
    – DoctorWhom
    Jul 11 '18 at 14:14

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