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The Surprising Truth: Why Breathing Exercises and CBT for Anxiety Don’t Breathe the Same Air

CBT and breathing techniques Anxiety is a common mental health disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. It can be debilitating, affecting one’s daily life and overall well-being. As a result, many individuals seek different treatment methods to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Two popular approaches for managing anxiety are breathing exercises and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). While both may seem similar in their focus on controlling and decreasing anxiety, they actually operate very differently.

Why Breathing Techniques Can Intensify Anxiety

On the surface, utilizing breathing techniques for anxiety seems like a good idea. However, there is a subtle interplay between the mechanics of breath and the cognitive engines that drive anxiety. Breathing exercises, including the popular pattern of inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth, aim to slow respiratory rates and foster a state of relaxation. Yet, for individuals grappling with anxiety, this very act can reinforce the misinterpretation of bodily sensations that precipitate panic. By trying to overly control breathing, you then feel even more out of control when anxiety doesn’t allow you to, thus, worsening anxiety.

The Panic Paradox

What many don’t realize is that anxiety and panic often stem from a hypersensitivity to bodily cues. The infamous ‘fight or flight’ response can manifest at the slightest shift in physiology, signaling to an overactive brain that danger is imminent. Engaging in certain breathing techniques, while soothing for some, can inadvertently serve as a distress signal for those already attuned to every inhalation. This paradoxical response can intensify the sense of impending doom rather than abate it.

Misdirection of Focus

When breathing becomes the center of attention during an anxiety attack, it can misdirect the individual from other tools such as changing thinking patterns, which can be more helpful. CBT, in contrast, redirects focus to cognitive restructuring and behavioral changes. It’s about teaching patients to work with, not against, their anxiety. Essentially, breathing techniques can sideline the more enduring work of confronting and altering the cognitive patterns that fuel anxiety.

CBT: A Different Approach

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy stands on the tenet that changing patterns of thought can alter one’s emotional state, while also impacting behavioral response. It is a proactive, structured approach that empowers individuals to challenge and reframe the negative automatic thoughts that underpin anxiety. Here’s why CBT finds breathing exercises less than vital in the grand scheme of anxiety treatment.

Thought Before Breath

Instead of starting with addressing physiological symptoms, CBT prioritizes the examination of thought processes. By identifying and challenging distorted thinking, individuals are better equipped to modulate their emotional response without the need for external coping strategies. CBT users are taught to view their anxiety not as a demon to be exorcised immediately but as an unpleasant, yet tolerable, occurrence.

A Crisis Without Emergency

CBT therapists teach that the experience of anxiety, though distressing, is not synonymous with danger. Through gradual exposure and response prevention techniques, CBT users learn to withstand anxiety-inducing situations and emotions. The long-term goal is to demonstrate that the discomfort of anxiety is both temporary and manageable without any specific external intervention, including breathing techniques.

A Step Beyond Symptom Management

While breathing exercises can have an important role in stress reduction and general mental well-being, CBT focuses on a more sustainable outcome. It’s not just about managing symptoms but about restructuring the inner mechanisms that sustain anxiety. The aim is a more robust psychological structure, unfazed by the whims of an overanalyzing mind and a hypersensitive alarm system.

Facing Fears Vs Fighting Them

CBT emphasizes the importance of facing fears as opposed to resisting them. Instead of trying to change or eliminate anxious feelings, clients are encouraged to accept their presence and face them head-on. By doing so, individuals learn that their thoughts do not have the power to dictate their actions or emotional state. Thus, they can tolerate discomfort, which ultimately weakens the hold of anxiety.

Progress Beyond Therapy Sessions

CBT is not just limited to therapy sessions. Clients are encouraged to practice and apply the techniques they learn in their everyday lives. This allows for a more gradual and sustainable progress over time, as individuals begin to integrate healthier coping mechanisms into their daily routines. With consistent practice, individuals can build resilience and self-confidence, reducing the impact of anxiety on their lives.

A Personalized Approach

One of the strengths of CBT is its adaptability to individual needs and experiences. At GroundWork in Orlando our Anxiety Therapists work closely with clients to identify their specific triggers and thought patterns, tailoring treatment plans accordingly. This personalized approach not only leads to more effective results but also empowers individuals by giving them a road map to overcome their anxiety.

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