Breathing techniques for anxiety can improve focus, help lower the heart rate, improve blood pressure, and can effectively help one manage their stress levels. Improper breathing has been found to lead to more anxiety, panic attacks, and other significant physiological and psychological disturbances.In a 2017 study from the Library of Medicine on the effects of diaphragm breathing, it was concluded that “diaphragmatic breathing practice [can] improve cognitive performance and reduce negative subjective and physiological consequences of stress in healthy adults.”
Deep, mindful breathing on a regular basis is vital for one’s physical and mental health. However, there are so many breathing exercises out there, that it’s hard to determine which ones are most effective. This article will teach you which breathing exercises are helpful and how to practice them.
First, though, it’s important to note that only practicing these exercises when anxiety or stress is high won’t be helpful. If a person shows up to the game and hasn’t really practiced, they won’t play well. These exercises need to be a part of one’s daily routine and rhythm to have a longer-lasting effect on anxiety and stress so the person is ready when anxiety is high.
It could be helpful to set a daily alarm to remember to practice one or several of these breathing exercises. In some smartwatches, there is a built-in feature that reminds you to spend a few moments taking deep breaths. Many smartphones have this feature, as well. The benefits of deep breathing are such that prioritizing it shouldn’t even be a question, just as we prioritize drinking a lot of water every day.
Simple, Effective Breathing Techniques for Anxiety
Since it’s that important, here are some simple, but effective breathing techniques to practice.
Belly Breathing (Diaphragmatic Breathing)
Shallow, chest breathing will only make anxiety and panic increase. An effective deep breath is one that goes deep in one’s belly, and then all the way back out through the mouth. One may even need to practice this for 20- to 30-minute periods of time in order to reduce stress.
To practice belly breathing, sit or lie down in a comfortable position or place (like a bed, comfortable chair, or sofa). One of the most important parts of effective breathing practice is the position of the body and mind. The body won’t be able to calm down if it’s moving or uncomfortable, and the mind won’t be able to be still either. With all of these practices, prioritize the position and location of your body.
- Once you’ve found your position, close your eyes, and place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly below your rib cage.
- Spend a few moments relaxing the muscles in your body, specifically in your abdomen. If you feel any muscle tension, release that tension.
- Begin to breathe slowly through your nose. Breathe in deeply so the hand on your belly rises and the hand on your chest stays still.
- Exhale slowly through pursed lips as your belly falls back down toward your spine. Repeat as long as you need.
Box Breathing (Four-Square Breathing)
Though box breathing doesn’t have the same health benefits as exercise or deep belly breathing, it still is an effective stress management tool. One unique feature is that you don’t have to be lying or sitting in a comfortable position to practice it. Though that would help it be more effective, it can be practiced anywhere. You can practice it while driving in your car, making your kids’ lunches, finishing a project, or teaching your students. It’s simple, too.
- Start with an exhale to the count of 4.
- Keep your lungs empty of breath for another count to 4.
- Then inhale to the count of 4.
- Hold the air in your lungs for another count to 4.
- Repeat the pattern as needed.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
This breath practice is best in a seated position. It simply involves closing one nostril as you breathe through the other nostril and repeating the pattern.
- “Position your right hand by bending your pointer and middle fingers into your palm, leaving your thumb, ring finger, and pinky extended.”
- Close your eyes or gaze downward. Relax the muscles in your eyes and your face.
- Inhale and exhale.
- Then close your right nostril with your thumb.
- Inhale through your left nostril.
- Close off your left nostril with your ring finger.
- Exhale through your right nostril.
- Close your right nostril with your thumb.
- Inhale through the left nostril.
Guided imagery and visualization are also effective ways to calm one’s body and release “happier” hormones that can reduce anxiety and stress.
- After you’ve found a comfortable position sitting or lying down, close your eyes and spend a few moments taking deep belly breaths.
- Bring your mind to somewhere you’ve been that feels safe and calming. Like a beach or a back porch overlooking a lake, or your best friend’s living room.
- As you focus on the place, continue with a steady rhythm of deep breaths.
- Bring to mind five things you see around you in this place, then four things you hear, three things you can touch (or feel), two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
- Spend as long as you need in this calm place, and when you are ready, take a few deep breaths and bring your attention back to your environment.
4-7-8 Breathing (The Relaxing Breath)
This breath is like a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.” Start off practicing this exercise sitting up tall.
- For the duration of this practice, place the tip of your tongue at the ridge at the top of your mouth behind your top teeth.
- Start with a big exhale through your mouth, making a “whoosh” sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale through your nose to the count of 4.
- Hold your breath to the count of 7.
- Exhale through your mouth to the count of 8, making a whoosh sound.
Pursed Lip Breathing
This practice naturally slows down your breathing.
- Get in a comfortable seated position.
- Close your eyes and relax your body, with a focus on your upper body (shoulders, chest, abdomen, neck, jaw).
- Close your mouth, and inhale through your nose for two seconds.
- Exhale through your mouth to the count of 4, puckering your lips as you were trying to whistle or kiss. This breath will be slow and steady.
- Repeat as needed with the best results if you practice multiple times a day.
Though each of these is simple and easy to practice, it can be even more simple than that.
- Get in a comfortable position sitting or lying down. Close your eyes and release any tension you feel in your body.
- Slowly inhale through your nose to the count of 4.
- Then exhale through your mouth slowly to the count of 6.
There are other effective ways to practice deep breathing techniques for anxiety, such as yoga, guided meditation, and various prayer practices (like palm up, palm down prayer, silent listening prayer, and others). Spend some time finding the methods that work for you and then put them into practice several times a day.
Again, the benefits are worth the small amount of time spent in practice. These are not just breathing techniques for anxiety and stress or even a healthier body. It’s breathing for one’s whole health. Spend a few moments today practicing one or several of these methods and notice how your body (and mind) feels before, during, and after so you can see the benefits for yourself.
Want more tips on how to reduce your anxiety? You can meet with a qualified counselor to learn how to deal with the unique anxieties you face. Reach out to us today to learn more about our treatments for anxiety.
a, X., Yue, Z. Q., Gong, Z. Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N. Y., Shi, Y. T., Wei, G. X., & Li, Y. F. (2017). The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 874. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874
“Deep Breath”, Courtesy of Brett Jordan, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Contemplation”, Courtesy of Kevin Turcios, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Naptime”, courtesy of Cassandra Hamer, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Last Ray of the Setting Sun”, Courtesy of Savannah Asah, Unsplash.com, CC0 License