When a person becomes anxious or starts to panic, the pulse rate increases, the palms of the hands may become sweaty, muscles tense and the mind and emotions become singularly focussed on the anxiety-causing event or situation. Another physiological change in the body at this time is an increase in the rate and depth of breathing. We go into what is referred to as the ‘Fight or Flight’ state. This is a normal response to stress.
In a person with a normal anxiety response, once the anxiety-causing event has passed the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems return the body to normal physiological baselines.
If a chronic state of hyperventilation exists (that is, the person breathes more than the physiologically required 4-5 litres per minute all or much of the time) then this will trigger changes in the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems producing a chronic state of anxiety. The person will feel as if they are permanently in a state of ‘Fight or Flight’ and have a permanently elevated level of anxiety.
Hyperventilation and anxiety form a ‘vicious circle’, one leading to the other. A professional psychologist who offers panic & anxiety help can be useful in helping to diagnose whether these stress levels are normal or not. The process may be ‘pushed’ or initiated from either end. One person may experience anxiety which then leads to hyperventilation, another person may hyperventilate leading to feelings of rising anxiety and/or panic. One feeds the other in an increasing spiral.
The Buteyko Institute Method program stops this vicious circle by teaching people how to correct hyperventilation bringing breathing rates back to normal and thereby reducing the resultant anxiety and panic. Once their breathing is back to a normal level they no longer have to live constantly in the ‘Fight or Flight’ state. Their body is able to return to normal after cessation of the anxiety-causing event.
Once people have mastered the breathing techniques introduced in the first few days of the course, other exercises are then taught which are to be specifically used in situations of, or which may sometimes lead to, panic or anxiety. By the end of the Buteyko course people have the knowledge and skills to recognise the early signs of panic and anxiety, and are in a position to reverse the onset of hyperventilation and the associated panic and anxiety. These specific exercises also have application for insomnia and other sleep problems.