How You Can Overcome Situational Anxiety With The Power of Your Breath

By Jade Doherty | Posted on : August 04, 2021

Do certain situations cause you great anxiety? Find out more about situational anxiety; what it is, why it happens, and how breathwork can help you to treat it.

Public speaking, job interviews, and large groups of people.

All 3 of these are common examples of situations that cause situational anxiety.

"Situational anxiety is a form of anxiety that occurs in response to a specific situation," says

Situational anxiety is not an anxiety that is always present, this is more likely to be generalized anxiety disorder where the anxiety is always there, rather situational anxiety is situation specific.

We often think of anxiety as being a constant, and for many people it is, but if you're someone who is normally quite calm but experiences intense bouts of anxiety related to specific situations, then this article is for you.

You might even be finding that after all the lockdowns the idea of being with people again in a social situation is creating anxiety and that you've developed a social phobia.

We will cover the common symptoms and causes, what's going on in your body when you experience an anxiety attack, as well as treatment options, and how breathwork can help.

You might be the most relaxed, chilled-out person, but find that there's a situation that causes so much stress and even provokes a panic attack! Rather than wondering if there's something wrong with you (there isn't) or why you can't "just" handle this situation like everyone else. Let's go slow, and approach this with compassion and curiosity.

Nervousness vs situational anxiety 

So what’s the difference between nervousness and situational anxiety, and how can you tell if you’re just a bit jittery before an event or actually experiencing anxiety? Most people have situations that make them nervous but not everyone experiences situational anxiety . Many of us get anxious before a job interview or an important presentation. It's normal for humans to experience some level of stress and anxiety.

The difference between getting nervous and experiencing situational anxiety is the intensity of the anxiety you experience and the physical symptoms you experience.

A bit nervous, rereading your notes, and hoping the exam goes well? That's a normal level of nerves. It's not fun, but it's within a manageable range.

Dizziness, nausea, and rapid breathing? That sounds like situational anxiety.

Other symptoms may include diarrhea, sweating, lightheadedness, trembling, and physical tension.

Generalized anxiety disorder vs situational anxiety

Generalized anxiety disorder is much more constant. It's a day-to-day disorder that people struggle to live with. Situational anxiety is situation-specific. It might only show up in a social situation, or could be related to a specific place. A bit like a phobia. You're not scared of everything, but that one specific phobia causes intense and overwhelming fear.

Both are anxiety disorders, but one is more constant while the other depends on the context. Both are valid, and can be treated.

What causes situational anxiety?

Situational anxiety can be caused by a painful or traumatic event. If you had a bad experience at a job interview, the next time you have an interview you could experience anxiety. Or if you had a car accident you might experience stress and anxiety when you start driving again, or if you have to drive past the place where it happened.

It can also be caused by new and changing situations. When we feel unsure and out of control anxious thoughts, stress, and anxiety can develop.

Have compassion for yourself. Be patient. Take a breath. This isn't a case of just getting over it. A traumatic event happened to you, or you feel completely lost as if there's no ground under your feet. It's natural to feel this way. You're not a machine!

Very often we're much more understanding when it comes to physical injuries than we are when it comes to mental health and mental disorders. You wouldn't expect someone with a broken foot to step on it, and expecting someone with situational anxiety to just do it is equally as harsh!

Treatment for situational anxiety

If you're reading this thinking "Wow, that sounds like me" then the first step is to get some help. There are a variety of treatment options available, which include medication, exposure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and breathwork.

All of these options are best done with professional guidance, be it your personal physician or other mental health experts. Self-medication is not a great idea (tempting as it may be!), therapy (including exposure therapy) is best done slowly and with a professional, and breathwork is most beneficial when learned from a qualified teacher.

You might also find that a mixed approach is best for you. Therapy and medication. Breathwork and exposure therapy. There's no right or wrong, there's just what works best for you.

As we specialize in breathwork, that's what the rest of this post will focus on, but please do consult a healthcare professional or doctor if you think you need some help.

Breathwork and situation anxiety

You might be wondering how breathing can help you with intense anxiety and intense fear. I can understand that. It sounds a bit too good to be true.

Many people have found breathwork to help with anxiety disorders, and it's a great tool to have to help you manage and reduce stress.

When we are experiencing anxiety and stress our body (or more specifically our nervous system) often go into a fight-or-flight response. Your adrenaline starts pumping, cortisol levels increase, and you're ready to meet a dangerous situation. This is your sympathetic nervous system at play.

You're ready to respond to danger. Your body does this because it perceives a threat. Maybe this situation, place, or person has caused you harm. Or maybe the uncertainty and overwhelming quality of the situation feels dangerous. There's nothing wrong with the sympathetic nervous system.

What we want is to activate the rest-and-digest branch of your nervous system, called the parasympathetic nervous system. This is where you feel calm and relaxed.

Breathing does this.

How does breathing calm us down?

Ever had someone tell you just to "Just breathe"?

I have. It's (often) infuriating, but (annoyingly!) they do have a point.

When we're stressed our breath gets short and shallow. You feel out of breath or may even start hyperventilating. When we're calm we take deep, slow breaths.

By reverse-engineering this process, we can start to evoke feelings of calm, peace, and safety. Our breath can engage the sympathetic nervous system, and it can engage the parasympathetic nervous system.

If you're feeling tired and lethargic, engaging your sympathetic nervous can be a great thing! You feel more energetic and raring to go.

If you're feeling anxious, stressed, and on the verge of a breakdown, engaging the parasympathetic nervous is a great thing!

Breathwork can help a dysregulated nervous system to come back into balance so that you can be alert and energetic, while also feeling calm and safe.

Are all types of breathwork the same?

The short answer is no, they're not all the same. Some are more effective for calming down, others are more effective for feeling alert and energized. Some can even be very triggering for some people.

The breath is a very powerful thing, and should be treated with respect!

Breathwork has grown in popularity recently (which is great!) but it's also important to be selective and informed about what you're doing.

Some types of breathwork (for example holotropic breathing) can create big, emotionally cathartic releases for people, but can also be quite scary and distressing for others. If you're dealing with anxiety these probably shouldn't be the first things you try.

A slower approach is generally better. I know some of us love the dramatic, cathartic release and would love to cure anxiety in one hour, but slow and steady wins the race. This is often referred to as titration, and really means going slowly at a level that is manageable and sustainable, and that doesn't overwhelm you. Be patient with yourself.

It's a good idea to get professional guidance from an experienced professional and to make sure that if you're taking classes at a yoga studio (for example) that the techniques they'll be teaching are calming rather than stimulating.

SKY Breath Meditation

At The Art of Living, we offer a program called SKY Breath Meditation which is great for anxiety disorders. Some of the benefits of SKY include:

  • Reduction in stress hormone (cortisol)

  • Reduction in both clinical and non-clinical depression

  • Reduce anxiety

  • Increase immunity

  • Help treat PTSD

  • Reduce stress levels

  • Increase well-being and happiness

As the name would suggest, SKY works with your breath to bring you into a greater state of well-being. It doesn't take long either, most participants experience benefits and shifts within a few weeks, sometimes in the very first session.

The great thing about SKY is that it works in both the long-run and the short-run.

In the long run, through a daily practice, you can reduce your anxiety, improve your mental health, and reduce stress hormones. This means when you do encounter that situation, it isn't as bad.

And, in the short run, if you do find yourself experiencing intense fear and stress, and feel a panic attack coming you can practice SKY and bring yourself back. Win-win!

How to get started?

If you're ready to start working with your breath to reduce anxiety (and depression and stress!) then I'm thrilled to invite you to join Beyond Breath.

Beyond Breath is a free workshop where you will get a taste of SKY and how it all works. An expert instructor will guide you through a meditation and breathing technique, and will also be able to answer any questions you have about SKY.

Just click the image below to save your spot.

Jade Doherty is a freelance copywriter, meditator, and traveler, who is currently exploring and learning to surf in Goa, India.

Art of Living Part 1 course: Discover Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s ancient secret to modern well-being.

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