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Breathing Exercises for Anxiety Work! Try These

breathing exercises anxiety healthyplaceDo you need breathing exercises to reduce anxiety? How’s your breathing right now? Chances are, it’s fairly shallow. Test it out: Continuing to breathe as you are, place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen, near your belly button. Which one is moving more? If your belly hand is moving out and back in, congratulations—you’re deep breathing. If, however, your chest hand is feeling the action, you might want to try these breathing exercises for anxiety and stress.

Without intentionally learning deep breathing exercises for anxiety, many of us breathe in shallow breaths that are too rapid without even realizing it. The cause is often anxiety and stress, and unfortunately, the result is also anxiety and stress, so we get stuck in a cycle that becomes a habit. Shallow, chest breathing has negative impacts on both body and brain.

  • Carbon dioxide levels in the blood drop, constricting arteries and reducing blood flow to the brain.
  • The body experiences a shortage of oxygen, triggering the fight-or-flight response.
  • Muscle tension increases.
  • The heart experiences palpitations.
  • Anxiety increases.
  • Panic attacks can be triggered.
  • Decreased ability to think clearly and rationally.
  • Stress and anxiety continue to increase.

The cycle feeds on itself, and because it’s difficult to break, shallow breathing becomes a habit. Learning to breathe deeply disrupts the cycle, allowing anxiety to diminish and racing thoughts to slow down. When deep breathing becomes a habit, the brain benefits from normal blood flow and the fight-or-flight response switches off. Stress hormones recede. Anxiety symptoms become far less bothersome.

Learning deep breathing techniques will allow you to harness the power of breathing. Anxiety breathing exercises are natural relaxation techniques that decrease anxiety, help the quality of our thoughts, and improve mood. Breathing properly reduces both anxiety and stress. Breathing exercises for anxiety work. Below are some to try.

Breathing Exercises for Anxiety and Stress

The best breathing exercises to relieve anxiety and stress are simple and can be done at any time and in any place. The goal is to be aware of your breathing and your feelings of stress, anxiety, and tension so you can use breathing exercises for anxiety relief in the moment. Try any of these 8 effective techniques.

  1. Very simply, breathe in slowly through your nose and out slowly through your mouth.
  2. Breathe in slowly through your mouth for five counts (or whatever feels comfortable), hold it for approximately five counts, then release slowly through your mouth for seven (the exhale should be a little longer than the inhale).
  3. Do one of the above breathing exercises, but on the exhale, place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth just behind your front teeth.
  4. Alternate nostril breathing: Place your forefinger and thumb on your nose. Gently press one of them down to close the nostril. Breathe in slowly through the open nostril. Pause. Switch so that the nostril that was closed is now open and vice versa. Gently and slowly exhale. Repeat, this time starting with the other nostril.
  5. Serene scene: breathing and visualization. Breathe slowly and deeply as in one of the above anxiety breathing exercises. Close your eyes and picture a scene that is pleasing and peaceful to you. When your thoughts wander, gently bring them back to the mental scene.
  6. Breathing and affirmations: Breathe slowly and deeply as above, and while doing so, repeat a word or a phrase that to you is calming, inspiring, motivating, etc (Use These Positive Affirmations for Anxiety Relief).
  7. Lie on your back with a light object on your abdomen. Breathe deeply enough so you can see it rise and fall.
  8. Add soothing music or sounds to any of the exercises if it helps you further relax.

Deep breathing to reduce anxiety and stress is most effective when done regularly. It does indeed lower stress, anxiety, and panic in the moment, but when it is done regularly, it becomes a habit and keeps you feeling calm. You can set aside time each day, approximately 10 minutes, to practice deep breathing, and you can use your downtime to encourage brain-nourishing, anxiety-reducing breath. Stuck in traffic? Getting tense and angry won’t get you moving any faster, but using the time to breathe and lower anxiety will allow you to reach your destination feeling calmer and more centered.

Deep breathing is sometimes associated with the practice known as yoga meditation. Yoga breathing exercises for anxiety are helpful. Research is demonstrating that deep, yoga-like breathing creates smooth brain waves, the type of brainwaves associated with deep relaxation (Imparato, 2016).

Breathing exercises for anxiety and stress are indeed effective. “The breath affects your brain, and from there everything else.” (Imparato, 2016, p. 15).


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~ all articles on self-help

Last Updated: 17 May 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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