Tag Archives: Anxiety Symptoms

Breathing Techniques: Exercises and types of breathing

Breathing Techniques. Controlling our breathing is one of the most effective means of intervening in our bodily and physiological state. Breathing connects the mind and body. Breathing exercises can help us relax, control anxiety, insomnia, etc. Breathing techniques improve our attention and reduce negative thoughts. Discover here the different breathing techniques, why they work and the advantages and disadvantages of each one of them.

Breathing Techniques. Photo by terimakash0. on Pixabay.com

What are breathing techniques and how do they work?

Breathing to relax is not a new technique. Buddhist and Oriental cultures have practiced these techniques for centuries. Meditation and mindfulness exercises rely heavily on respiratory control.

Deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the involuntary activity of the organism when we are at rest. Shallow breathing stimulates the sympathetic system, which is responsible for putting into operation different organs to prepare us for action. The latter is the one that is activated during periods of stress, and its activity is the one that we want to counteract by learning different breathing techniques.

Of all automatic responses, respiration is practically the only one we can voluntarily control (along with blinking). It is a gateway to our body’s autonomous system, which we can use to send messages to our brain.

The following are various breathing techniques which, although they can be used in any case, are especially effective for specific purposes.

Breathing Techniques: Different types of breathing.

Clavicular respiration

Because it is a type of shallow breathing, the ribcage does not allow the lungs to expand as much as they would in deeper breathing.

How do you know if you normally use this type of breathing? Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen and breathe normally. Which of the two hands rises? If the upper one rises, your breath is clavicular, if the lower one is abdominal. There are people which both hands rise, this means that the breathing is quite deep and could be adequate.

This type of breathing is inefficient because the greatest amount of blood to collect oxygen occurs in the lower areas of the lungs, which implies that you are getting little oxygen. This rapid and shallow breathing results in poor transmission of oxygen to the blood and therefore little nutrients to the tissues.

  • Advantages of clavicular breathing: This type of breathing provides us with oxygen quickly, and can be useful when we have to run to catch the bus.
  • Disadvantages of clavicular breathing: Oxygen supply is insufficient, and maintained over time can increase stress and make our brain and our body not functioning properly.

Diaphragmatic or deep breathing

Diaphragmatic or deep breathing, also called abdominal breathing, consists of bringing air to the lower part of your lungs, using the muscles of the diaphragm. You will see your abdomen rise, hence its name.

For many, deep breathing may be strange and unnatural. This may be because in our society it is desirable to have a flat belly, and for this, especially women, tend to retain their abdominal muscles and in turn prevent a deep breath. It also happens because of continued stress and anxiety that maintains clavicular breathing his abdominal contraction may also be due to stress and continued stress.

  • Advantages of diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing: This breathing technique allows a complete flow of oxygen to our body, allowing it to function properly. The heart rate goes down as does the blood pressure.
  • Disadvantages of diaphragmatic or deep breathing: This breathing technique has no disadvantage other than the need to learn it, since many people do not have it automated.

Thoracic Respiration

In thoracic breathing, the intercostal muscles intervene, and with it, the rib cage. Usually this type of breathing is done to make us aware of this part of the body. It is not used independently but rather as an additional phase for complete breathing.

Complete breathing

Deep or complete breathing requires the air entering your nostrils to fill the different areas of your lungs. When you breathe deeply your abdomen (or belly), your diaphragm rises and your chest. In the following section we describe in detail how to carry it out.

  • Advantages of Complete Breathing: This breathing technique provides the body with a superior state of calm and relaxation. Our body receives a large supply of oxygen, reducing our heart rate, blood pressure and blood cortisol levels, which increase anxiety symptoms when high.
  • Disadvantages of Complete Breathing: While deep breathing can be done automatically, complete breathing can’t since it is somewhat more complicated to perform if we are not used to it. This is part of the breathing exercises, as we will detail below.

Breathing Techniques to Calm Anxiety

When we want to practice breathing techniques we have to first find a comfortable place to do it. Sit with our backs straight and our arms supported. The room should be a pleasant temperature and not too bright. Focus on your current breathing and determine if it is very agitated and more clavicular?

Breathing Techniques

Complete Breathing Technique

One of the most effective breathing techniques to lessen our anxiety is the complete breathing method, which we mentioned earlier. To do it correctly first we must be aware of the different types of breathing.

  • Place your hand on the chest and another on the belly. Through inhalation, you raise only the upper hand. Hold the air and expel it through your mouth to make it more conscious. Repeat a couple of times
  • Now, with your hands in the same position we will try to raise your lower hand the one on the belly but not the chest. Repeat a couple of times more.
  • Then, when inhaling, bring the air to the lower part and then to the upper part, causing the lower hand to rise first and then one on the chest.
  • When we have already mastered it, we will perform complete breaths making a slight pause between inhalation and exhalation. Each process of inhalation and exhalation should last about the same time.

Asymmetric breathing technique

Another breathing technique is by making the inhalation shorter and lengthening the exhalation. For example, breathing in at one time and exhaling in 5 or 6. This is particularly effective because our heart rate increases with inhalation and decreases when the air is expelled. In this way, by extending this expulsion we are enhancing those effects.

Resistance breathing technique

The resistance breathing technique consists in creating, a resistance when releasing the air. There are many ways to create resistance, for example by blowing air through your mouth with your lips together, hissing through your teeth, through a straw, or even through singing. We can emit sounds with the exhalation, like the Ohm syllable, or simply vibrating our vocal cords. This sound resonates our rib cage and our skull providing a very pleasant sensation.

Dynamic breathing technique

There is a type of breathing that requires some imagination but can become very relaxing. As you inhale, imagine a wave covering your body from head to toe. Look at the different parts of the body and relax them if you notice tension. When you release the air, imagine that the wave is retreating from head to toe.

How do we know that we are relaxing? If the relaxation is being effective, you may feel a kind of tingling or heat on your fingertips.

Breathing techniques for sleeping

Symmetrical breathing for better sleep

Place one hand on the chest and one hand on the abdomen. Inhale through the nose in four takes, making sure that it is your belly that swells (not the chest). Exhale through the nose in four other takes. If your body asks you, you can extend both inhalation and exhalation to 5 or 6 takes. Then you can perform two or three normal breaths and return to inspiration and exhalation in 4 or 6 strokes. You can repeat the cycles five or six times.

This technique is useful to calm us in any situation, but works very well before going to bed. Counting your breaths helps keep unwanted thoughts from interfering with our sleep.

You can vary this technique by replacing counting for words such as inhale-exhale, etc.  If 4 intakes of air are too much you can make it shorter.

Fractional breathing for better sleep

This technique is similar to the previous one but now you will hold your breath. Inhale in 4 takes, hold the air counting to 4 and exhale in 4 takes. Then two or three normal breaths and it starts again.

Breathing Techniques for Attention

Breathing exercises can help us improve our focus and concentration. In this way, we will not only improve when working or studying, but we will manage to control unwanted thoughts.

Alternate Breathing to Improve our Attention

A very effective exercise to focus our attention is alternate breathing. To do this place your fingers on the nostrils as if you were to cover your nose. When you take air, lightly move a finger to cover one of the nostrils. When you release the air, open the nostril that you had closed and at the same time with a single movement of the hand, close the opposite nostril. To visualize it better, form with your hand the letter C and make lateral movements, from right to left alternately covering a nostril at a time.

There are variants to this technique. You can alternate the order of the inhale-exhale nostrils. For example, you can inhale on the left, exhale on the right, and then inhale on the right and exhale on the left.

This type of breathing is very useful to focus attention and fill you with energy. That is why it is not the most appropriate to do before bed.

Breathing techniques for children

Teaching children to control their breathing and using it to calm themselves is one of the best long-term investments that can be made. Support and encourage your children to practice breathing regularly and do it consciously, as if it were a habit. Teach them the different breathing techniques and how they affect how they feel.

  • Breathing the flowers: To practice this breathing technique imagine that you are smellin flower, draw air through your nose and expel through your mouth. By using flowers you can teach children to connect with their breathing and learn how it makes them feel.
  • Bee breathing: This breathing technique is practiced sitting or lying comfortably, close your eyes. Breathe through your nose and cover your ears. Vibrate the vocal cords making the sound “mmm”. The sound resonance has a great soothing effects that children often enjoy.
  • Rabbit’s Breathing: Perform three short, quick inhalations and release the air slowly. Role-play that the children are rabbits and they are on a scavenger hunt. This breathing technique can be very useful for children who find it difficult understand their breathing.

How to create a breathing routine

To master these breathing techniques and find out which one works best for you, constant practice is necessary. These tips can help you keep the practice going.

  • Choose a quiet place where you can sit or lie comfortably.
  • Don’t worry if you do not get it on your first try, with practice you will improve.
  • Try to practice every day 5 or 10 minutes in the morning. If you feel like it, you can extend the practice time. Don’t be too ambitious at first.
  • Practice the breathing techniques always at the same time of the day, for example before bed, or when waking up. This will make it easier to create a habit.
Breathing  techniques

Some people find breathing techniques difficult to master or not to their liking. Another healthy way to control breathing is through exercise, progressive relaxation techniques or yoga.

This article is originally in Spanish written by Andrea García Cerdán, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Pica Disorder: What is is? Discover everything about this eating disorder

Pica disorder also called “pica” is not well known but has serious health implications. It is a type of eating disorder in which there is an irresistible desire to eat or lick non-nutritive substances such as toothpaste, cigarette butts, detergent, mud, hair, plaster, chalk, condoms, paper, things that have no food value. It is a strange food illness in which the person is affected physically, mentally and even culturally. We explain more about this curious and unknown eating disorder that affects not only children but also adults.

What is Pica Disorder?

Pica Disorder is characterized by the urgent desire to eat non-nutritive substances without nutritional value in a compulsive way.

Usually, if we think about this disorder we associate it with children. There is a stage in the development of the child whose curiosity leads him to put objects in his mouth. However, when it occurs in children who are older than 5 years old, the alarms should set off.

When we talk about adults with Pica disorder they often have intellectual disabilities. This disorder is also associated with people who have some kind of nutritional deficiency, such as a lack of iron, and pregnant women or individuals with other mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, anxious patients or as a way to attract attention.

It is closely related to obsessive-compulsive disorder since individuals suffering from OCD as well as those suffering from pica disorder are often aware of their behavior but can’t stop even though it is unhealthy and unreasonable.

History of Pica Disorder

The term “pica” comes from the Latin word that means “magpie”. The magpie does not show a preference for food or non-food substances.

In some modern cultures, the pica behavior happens in a ritualistic way. In the nineteenth century in the southern United States, this behavior was common among slaves and this practice is still accepted in some cultures. It has been part of religious ceremonies, magical beliefs, and healing attempts. In many cultures, the clay ingestion is used for its medicinal properties.

Risk Factors in Pica Disorder

It is not known exactly what are the causes of this alteration, but there are a series of risk factors that make it more likely to suffer from this disorder:

  • Stressful and Chaotic Family Environments
  • Having addictive behaviors or an addiction
  • Lack of a social support
  • Parental negligence
  • Mother-child separation
  • Epilepsy
  • Brain damage
  • Culture: In African countries, pica is more common among women and children. In a study conducted in Nigeria, the incidence of pica in adolescents and boys was between 25% and 46%.

Hypothesis on Pica Disorder

The causes of this eating disorder are unknown. To explain pica disorder experts have proposed some hypotheses that include cultural factors, low socioeconomic status, psychological disorders and other diseases.

1. Nutritional Facts

Nutrition deficiencies are the most common theories to explain why Pica Disorder appears. Lack of minerals such as iron and zinc are common. Although malnutrition is often diagnosed at the same time as pica, a link has not been established.

2. Sensory and physiological

These theories are based on the opinions of patients who claim to enjoy the taste, texture or odor of the substance they are ingesting. It has been discovered that people with this disorder have a reduced activity of their dopaminergic system in the brain. Low or abnormal levels of dopamine may be related to this disorder.

3. Neuropsychiatric

There is evidence that certain brain lesions are associated with abnormal feeding behaviors.

4. Psychosocial

As previously stated one of the risk factors for the development of this eating disorder is the existence of a pattern of behavior similar to anxiety disorders. In this disorder eating non-food substances relieves the stress they feel.

Symptoms and Complications of Pica Disorder

Pica disorder symptoms may vary according to the non-food substance ingested. Often individuals with pica disorder suffer from the same symptoms as anorexia such as mineral deficiency, unhealthy nails, hair and weight loss. Symptoms due to ingestion of non-food substances are as follows:

  • Sand/soil consumption produces gastric pain symptoms and occasional bleeding.
  • Biting ice causes teeth decay.
  • Clay ingestion leads to constipation.
  • Swallowing metal objects causes intestinal perforation.
  • Eating fecal material causes infectious diseases.
  • Lead intake causes kidney damage and mental retardation.

The complications associated with pica can be divided into five groups:

  1. Inherent toxicity.
  2. Obstruction.
  3. Excessive calorie intake.
  4. Nutritional deprivation.
  5. Others (parasites and teeth damage).

The clinical consequences of pica disorder may have wide and very serious implications. Lead poisoning in children can lead to serious impairment of intellectual and physical development. Individuals with pica disorder also have a higher risk of developing very serious health problems such as abdominal pain, intestinal and colon obstruction.

The most extraordinary and serious case is the Rapunzel Syndrome (a mass of hair anchored in the stomach) has been observed in children, in people with mental retardation, people with malnutrition and halitosis.

Pica Disorder Diagnosis

For this disorder to be diagnosed by an expert the person has to meet a number of requirements that are included in the DSM-5 (diagnostic manual developed by the American Psychiatric Association). The criteria for diagnosing Pica Disorder are:

  1. Persistent eating of non-nutritive, nonfood substances for a period of at least one month.
  2. The eating of nonnutritive, nonfood substances is inappropriate to the developmental level of the individual.
  3. The eating behavior is not part of a culturally supported or socially normative practice.
  4. If occurring with another mental disorder, or during a medical condition, it is severe enough to warrant independent clinical attention.
Pica Disorder

It can be difficult to recognize a person who is suffering from this disorder because sometimes they feel embarrassed to tell you what is going on. It is necessary for the doctor to ask directly about eating habits and pica disorder behaviors.

If you believe or suspect that your child is suffering from this disorder, contact your doctor immediately. 

Treatment for Pica Disorder

There is no standard treatment. A multi-professional team of experts should take into account biological, psychological and social factors. Behavior modification has shown some effectiveness in some cases and in short follow-up. As a type of eating disorder, clinical intervention is focused on cognitive-behavioral therapy and family therapy.

  • Behavioral interventions have proven effective in treating children with a developmental disorder. Re-education therapies are conducted for parents to see how they supervise their children while playing and to guide certain behaviors in the home such as avoiding any type of toy that can be toxic, avoid play dough, lead-based paints or if they have pets at home pick up the feces so the little one can’t access them. Although the sporadic appearance of symptoms in young children may be normal, when it persists in time, appropriate measures must be taken.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy is very effective and is applied in people with intellectual disabilities, behavioral problems, individuals with autism and other disorders. This type of therapy teaches new behaviors through the reinforcement of positive behaviors and the punishment of unwanted behaviors.
Pica Disorder- CBT therapy

If it is due to a nutritional deficiency due to a lack of minerals, a blood test will be carried out, and transfusion therapy will restore its levels back to normal as well as a cognitive-behavioral intervention will be performed with follow-up sessions.

Few studies have attempted to examine the efficacy of pharmaceutical treatments, so psychopharmacology experts believe there is no specific drug to treat pica. Doctors don’t have any particular medicine but do advise opting for serotonin inhibitors.

This article is originally written in Spanish by Noemí Vega Ruiz, translated by Alejandra Salazar.