A woman sits in her car during traffic, sweating and clutching the wheel, while she visualizes herself in a hot air balloon floating far away.

How To Power Through Gotta-Go Moments With Combat Breathing

Another morning spent too long in the bathroom. Now I’m running late for work.

IBD sufferers are familiar with the pains of too much time spent "bonding" with the commode and the rallying question of, "Can I make it to work without having to go again?" Time is never a friend to those dealing with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.

Believe me, I know.

The urgency of my colitis flaring

For more than 30 years, I have battled the wars of UC. At times, these battles have been so bad that I questioned whether I could keep going as a high school teacher.

Flares are challenging enough, but even when in remission, I still struggle with the physical toll that anxiety takes on my body. Running late in the morning can trigger the urgent need to use the restroom.

Or coming upon stopped traffic in a construction zone can elicit the powerful punch of my colon warning, "Get to a bathroom NOW!"

So, what’s a sufferer to do? How have I learned to manage the daily stresses that trigger my gut? I utilize the simplest and quickest method to calm my anxious alarms: combat breathing.

Breathing exercises for those IBD moments

Where I learned about this, I couldn’t tell you. But I do know I learned about it somewhere around 10 years ago. Now, it’s become my go-to method to slow the accelerator within my mind. It’s become my own internal brake pedal.

Here’s how to take control of an elevated breathing response when in an anxious situation:

  1. Sit with your spine straight and lifted.
  2. Close your mouth and eyes (if possible).
  3. Exhale all the air out of your lungs.
  4. Now, inhale through your nose slowly and count 1-2-3-4.
  5. Hold it in and count 1-2-3-4.
  6. Exhale through your nose slowly and count 1-2-3-4.
  7. Hold your breath again after exhaling.
  8. Start over by inhaling and counting 1-2-3-4.
  9. Keep repeating until you feel relaxed in your shoulders and throughout your body.

"Box Breathing" exercise

Somewhere I read that Navy SEALS practice this method but with a slightly different name: "Box Breathing." The technique is the same inhalation, exhalation, and four-second count. What’s different about their relaxation technique, though, is they instruct SEALS to picture a box with equal sides.

As they go through the steps, they visualize traveling up one side of the square on the inhalation. Then, they imagine moving across the top of the square while holding the breath. Finally, following the breath down the right side of the box when exhaling. Repeating the pattern.

By visualizing a box, a mental anchor is created that quickly allows a person to regain rhythmic breathing flow.

Stifle IBD panic through breath and visualization

During my technique, I approach it differently in visualization. Focusing on a box doesn’t appeal to my mindset. Instead, I prefer thinking of floating upwards – slowly in a hot-air balloon.

Rising slowly above traffic, time, or whatever the stressor happens to be. Through my combat breathing exercise, I prefer to create distance between myself and the trigger.

Whichever image one chooses, the main goal is achieving deep, conscious breathing to stifle the building panic.

Breathing it all out...

Combat breathing has become such a good relaxation technique for me that I use it every morning as a 5-minute meditation to start my day. Now, don’t misunderstand: It’s not a miracle cure. But it helps rewire one’s nervous system to better manage stress and improve mental control.

Whether one suffers from an IBD or not, who doesn’t want to achieve better mental control? In this “hurry-scurry” world, I’m thinking we all could use that.

So, let’s count to 4, BREATHE it all in, and LOVE it all out.

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