I have called this technique Breath Focus for simplicity but it is also known as being mindful of your breath in the field of Mindfulness. Many anxiety sufferers have at some stage been taught breathing exercises as a means to controlling anxiety. In some you may have been taught to breathe from a particular part of your body, often the abdomen. In others the breathing is regulated by counting up to a certain number for each part of the breath. If one of these techniques works for you then that's fine.
There are, however, many cases where such techniques which are based on regulating the breathing in some way, don't work at all. All too often the attempt can degenerate into a battle within the sufferer. On the one hand they are trying to breathe in a particular way whilst at the same time they are monitoring the panicky feelings they have. Since they are usually failing on both counts, their negative arousal is actually increasing rather than reducing.
When practising a Mindfulness technique, and with breathing in particular, the aim is not to change the way you are breathing in any way at all. All you are doing is simply observing your own breathing pattern. So, if your breathing is very fast and shallow, you observe it just as it is. If your breathing is slow and regular, you observe it just as it is. In Mindfulness there are no expectations about things having to be a certain way. You simple observe what is.
Because you are not putting any pressure on yourself to be doing anything in particular you can't possibly fail. It is failure or the fear of failure which usually causes the negative arousal to increase in anxiety-provoking situations. With Breath Focus you can't fail.
How to do it.
You simply start observing each and every breath. As you inhale you notice any sensations you feel as the air enters your nose or mouth. You may, for instance, be aware of it passing up one nostril more than the other. You don't comment about this in your mind, you simply observe it. You notice the slight movement of your body as you breathe, the small changes in the feel of your clothing as your body moves with each breath. You keep your awareness on that same breath as it leaves your body again.
You repeat this for two or three breaths, keeping your awareness on the subtle sensations but not trying to make your breath do anything in particular. You just observe what your breath is doing anyway. I have recorded a very short download - breath focus mp3 - which describes this as you do it.
If using this technique as a meditation exercise you can continue and add in awareness of other things. For the purposes of Breath Focus and how to use it as a technique to reduce negative arousal especially when a suggestion of 'what if…?' arises, simply focus on two or three breaths and initially go Dead Weight at the same time. This is usually enough to enable you then to re-focus your thoughts or your awareness onto the present moment and to release any unhelpful Head Conversations you may have been having.
There are commercially available cd's and mp3 downloads which focus on using breathing mindfully for anyone who feels drawn to this particular form of meditation.