Anxiety takes a huge toll on every sufferer and their close ones. A recent comprehensive review has shed light on the unexpectedly high that prevalence of anxiety disorders.
The study was just published in the Journal of Brain and Behaviour and based on a synthesis of 48 reviews on prevalence studies conducted across the globe. This is the first review to date to undertake such a comprehensive work on the prevalence of anxiety disorders.
The study’s main finding: The prevalence of anxiety disorders is high in population subgroups across the globe (ranging from 4–25%). It found it was much higher: in women (5-9%); young adults (2.5–9%); people with chronic diseases (1–70%); and individuals from Euro/Anglo cultures (4-10%). This is a Wake-Up call for us all!
People with anxiety are often very aware of their erratic and rapid breathing during an anxiety attack. Yet they are never explained why that is and what happens in their bodies during an anxiety attack.
When blood CO2 levels drop – and this may happen whenever we breathe excessively (often during times of stress) – oxygen levels drop as blood vessels constrict. Just one minute of excessive breathing can lower blood circulation to the brain by up to 40% (Litchfield 1999).
When this happens brain cells starve of oxygen and start to raise the danger flag. They do this by sending signals to the adrenal glands to produce stress hormones. This will increase our breathing drive and CO2 levels decrease further.
Low CO2 levels affect the pH of the fluid surrounding the nerve cells in the brain who the become more prone to fire at random. What this means is that our thoughts may become irrational, emotions may be triggered unexpectedly, perception, vision and hearing can change and things may seem distant. This will create additional confusion, stress, and fear. Basically you will fear that something is happening to you that you have no control over and you have no clue why it happens.
This vicious cycle of overbreathing, symptom development, stress and anxiety will continue until something changes. Either the sufferer burns all available energy and collapses when tired. Or the sufferer has found a way to deal with the attack. The age old remedy to breathe into a paper bag restores CO2 levels stopping the cycle. In the worst case the attack continues for days and weeks.
It seems counter-intuitive why our body allows this self-defeating process to happen instead of supporting us in times of stress! However, our bodies evolved in times when stress meant danger from predators and that meant running away or playing dead. The muscle activity raised in the case of running kept CO2 levels normal. The reduced breathing rate in the case of playing dead did the same. As we don’t do this anymore, CO2 levels can keep plummeting and the anxiety attack can run its course.
What is becoming more prevalent now is people living with low-grade anxiety most of the time. Symptoms and anxiety levels may be not as extreme as during a full blown attack but they still affect the sufferer’s life, and that daily! The underlying mechanism is the same: blood gas imbalance (low CO2 and low O2) fuelled by incorrect breathing.
What to do?
We need to find ways to increase CO2 levels quickly and safely should they run too low and also prevent them from dropping to start with. Fortunately, ways to do this exist right under our nose. Your breathing coach can teach you what to do. Breathing right will ensure healthy CO2 and oxygen levels to keep anxiety at bay.