How To Breathe Your Way Through Trauma Responses From Your Past

Your new best friend when coping with life’s stress.

Woman grounding herself and breathing through triggers - YuriArcurs, Science Photo Library | Canva

When we think of trauma, it can be major trauma someone has experienced like serious accidents, assault, or natural disasters. Trauma can also be in our everyday life such as relational trauma., which is the trauma we feel due to relationships with parents, children, siblings, friends, or coworkers. Trauma can be a one-time event or chronic.

How to breathe your way through the trauma responses from your past

Understand common trauma responses

Common responses to trauma are the flight/fight/freeze/fawn mechanisms. When we do not like how we feel from trauma, we tend to do something to help us forget about what happened.




Some trauma responses include: Fighting, physically or verbally. Flight that leads to addictions to help you forget what happened. Freezing, which leads to anxiety, or fawning that is playing dead or submitting, which leads to depression. All four of these responses can be calmed by breath.


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You were born breathing into your diaphragm

Whether you fly, fight, freeze, or fawn, diaphragmatic breathing helps you to calm down. The breath needs to be inhaled from your diaphragm. If the breath is inhaled from your chest, it will only activate the trauma response and possibly make it worse.

Breathing from the diaphragm is also called belly breathing. This type of breathing helps you think in the moment and make your chosen decisions. It can help you stop crying when you choose not to cry in a stressful situation. This does not mean you do not deal with the emotion in the moment. It allows you self-control to decide when to deal with the emotion.

Components of breathing through trauma responses

There are three components to breathing. The components are physical grounding, body alignment, and diaphragmatic breathing. Along with establishing healthy boundaries, breathing is the way to deal with trauma. 


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For physical grounding during a trauma response, you want to feel your feet on the floor, your thighs on the chair, and your back being supported by the chair. This is much easier when you are not on a comfy couch. You can also ground yourself while standing. Body alignment is having good body posture through the spine as you sit or stand. For some people, this may mean you won’t be able to lean against the back of a chair.

The last part is to breathe from the diaphragm. This means you do not want breath going into the lungs with the chest expanding or the shoulders rising. You want to pull the breath into your lungs from your belly.


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When breathing may not help

Sometimes, breathing might not be helpful. When you are highly activated it may be hard to use the breathing. The idea is to learn to identify when you are starting to become activated and start breathing when it can be useful.

she is focused on her breathPhoto: The Num Phanu- via Shutterstock


Practice breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing was how you were born breathing. So you can learn to do it again. Try standing in front of a mirror to see how you draw your breath. Placing your hands around your belly button helps you feel the breath movement. Can you feel the calming effect? It is helpful to practice this daily so your body gets used to doing it on its own.

You can use diaphragmatic breathing to calm trauma responses. It can be your best friend when coping with life’s stress.

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Audrey Tait is a counselor, dietitian, author, and founder of Inspirational Insights Counseling, Inc., who helps people overcome addictions, and eating disorders, and create positive affirmations in their lives. Her book, Reflective Meditations Trilogy: Understanding My Authentic Self, Believing in Myself, Loving Myself, Plus Understanding My Boundaries is available now.