With our growingly fast-paced lifestyles; social requirements, education, and work pressures, bills to pay and futures to sort out, problems like anxiety are becoming more common by the day.
According to a report released by the World Health Organization (WHO), the total estimated number of people living with anxiety disorders in the world is 264 million.
That’s like the entire adult population of the U.S. or roughly 40% of the total population of Europe. Nevertheless, a worryingly large number.
In our rapidly moving society, where we’re always running short of time, and trying to get things done, it is beneficial to know a few tips and tricks for anxiety relief.
Wouldn’t life be so much easier if we could find a convenient way to settle everyday anxiety?
Of course, it would! And we have just that for you. Breathing!
Breathing exercises for anxiety can help calm down the torrent of worrying thoughts that keep you tensed during the day and awake at night.
So, what do you do when your head starts to spin, your heartbeat drums in your ears, and you feel like your chest is squeezing up?
You breathe … 🙂
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is part of life – it’s a relatively normal reaction that you experience when you feel threatened or in danger. This response is accompanied by a series of changes that take place in your body and mind. To be more specific, anxiety changes the way we think, feel, and act.
All these changes are meant to help you deal with threats or dangers, especially when a quick reaction can make the difference between safety and harm.
But despite its obvious function – to warn you about potential threats – anxiety can often be a real pain in the ass. Like a sensitive car alarm that goes off whenever a cat passes by, anxiety can sometimes “go off” in the absence of real dangers.
In its dysfunctional form, anxiety is an unpleasant state of restlessness that can quickly turn your day into a real nightmare. This constant worrying about the future and everything that might go wrong in your life is the reason why anxiety feels like a constant burden.
But let’s try to understand what’s really going on under the surface.
What are the Telltale Signs of Anxiety?
The following are some of the most common symptoms of anxiety.
Which ones do you experience most often?
- Feelings of panic, or dread.
- Increased heart rate.
- Heavy sweating and palpitation.
- Shaking, trembling or twitching muscles.
- Nervousness, restless and constant tension.
- Hyperventilation or shortness of breath.
- Feeling weak and lazy.
- Inability to think clearly and feeling stuck on whatever is worrying you.
- Difficulty sleeping and insomnia.
These symptoms may vary in occurrence and degree depending on the circumstances, and amount of anxiety you are feeling. That is to say, you may not always experience all of these symptoms at the same time, and some signs may present themselves stronger than others, depending on various factors.
If you want to get a clearer picture of how your anxiety manifests in your life, then we strongly recommend you take our anxiety test.Breathing properly in times of anxiety or panic attacks can help get you back to serenity Click To Tweet
Why do Breathing Techniques Help With Anxiety?
Out of all the techniques designed to help you keep anxiety in check, nothing is more accessible and practical than breathing exercises. The simple act of focusing on your breathing and the rhythm with which air goes in and out of your lungs can quickly provide you with that much-needed anxiety relief.
As you will soon find out, the principle behind breathing exercises is simple. But to understand it, first, we need to go back to the symptoms that characterize this mood disorder. More specifically, the two physical symptoms that most anxious individuals complain about are:
- Increased heart rate
- Hyperventilation or shortness of breath
Whenever a particular event (which is accompanied by a torrent of worrying thoughts) triggers fear and anxiety, your body will immediately go into full alert. Or better said – total chaos.
Your heart rate increases, you start breathing chaotically, and you end up thinking “Holy s*it, I’m going to die!!!” In other words, the unpleasant physical symptoms that were triggered by anxiety are now making you even more anxious.
But how the hell is that possible! you might say…
Well, it turns out that anxiety can make you worry about everything, including anxiety itself.
In other words, anxiety generates more anxiety.
It appears that the sensitive car alarm that goes on when a cat passes by triggers all the alarms in the neighborhood, resulting in total chaos. A state of chaos that can shake our mental homeostasis (a state of mental peace and stability) and ruin our mood for the rest of the day.
But as one study on breathing as a primary treatment for anxiety clearly states, some experts believe “reversing homeostatic alterations with meditation and breathing techniques rather than targeting neurotransmitters with medication may be a superior method to address the whole body changes that occur in stress, anxiety, and depression.”
Although medication can help a lot, particularly in cases of severe anxiety, breathing techniques are a viable ‘supplement’ or – in instances of subclinical anxiety – a great alternative in the battle against anxiety.
But how exactly do breathing exercises calm our anxious minds?
- They provide a distraction from the chaos and worry caused by anxiety.
- The rhythmic flow of breathing inspires a sense of calm and control.
- They help you breathe steadily during those stressful moments of full-blown anxiety so that you don’t ‘slip’ into a panic attack.
Now let’s look at some simple but highly effective breathing techniques that will help you keep anxiety in check.
5 Breathing Exercises to Ease Your Anxiety
#1 Deep Breathing
Although deep breathing is mainly used for stress reduction, many people who struggle with anxiety have managed to achieve mental calm thanks to this simple and effective technique.
The logic behind deep breathing is the same as in the case of any breathing exercise. By focusing on inhaling and exhaling in a controlled manner, you take your mind off the worrying thoughts that are fueling your anxiety. Also, it helps you ease one of the most frequent symptoms of anxiety – shortness of breath.
Here’s what you need to do:
- As always, find a comfortable position.
- Take a deep breath by inhaling through your nose while counting to five.
- Hold your breath while counting to five.
- Exhale through your mouth while counting to five.
- Repeat a couple of times.
If it makes it easier, here’s a video that will help you get started:
#2 Abdominal Breathing
The main idea behind this technique is to pay attention to your muscle movement, and you’re good to go.
Sounds pretty simple, right?
Here’s what you need to do:
- Lie down flat, with your knees propped up, or legs stretched out. Whichever one you find more comfortable.
- Put your left hand on your chest, and your right hand on your stomach. (Could be the other way around. Pick whatever works for you!)
- Breathe in through your nose, slow and steadily.
- Make sure that your diaphragm inflates. In other words, make sure the hand on your stomach moves outwards as you breathe, while the hand on your chest stays still.
- Now, EXHALE. Purse your lips and push the air out by tightening your stomach muscles. The hand on your stomach should now move inwards.
- Throughout this exercise, try to keep the hand on your chest as still as possible.
Repeat a few times, keeping the hand on your chest moving, and the hand on your stomach still. Continue this exercise for 10 minutes and try to do it at least twice a day.
Here’s a video that will guide you through all the steps of abdominal breathing:
This exercise will gradually start to lower your anxiety. More specifically, it will help your heart rate settle and lower your blood pressure. In time, you will see a general reduction in your stress and anxiety levels.
Abdominal breathing allows you to breathe steadily while maximizing the amount of oxygen that goes into the bloodstream. This interrupts the ‘Fight or Flight’ response and triggers the body’s usual relaxation response, says the University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Centre.
The more frequently and regularly you do this exercise, the sooner you will see positive results, not just with regards to your anxiety, but also your health in general!
#3 The 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise
Inspired by the Indian spiritual tradition, Dr. Andrew Weil from Harvard has come up with a breathing technique that can help you relax in any situation. In fact, he even claims that his revolutionary technique can help you fall asleep in one minute.
The 4-7-8 breathing technique has been described as a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system, reducing tension and helping the body relax. It’s ridiculously easy to practice, requires very little time and effort, and can be done anywhere.
When I first discovered this technique, I must admit I was a bit skeptical. It seemed too easy to be real. After using it a couple of times, I came to realize that the 4-7-8 breathing technique can be a handy trick against anxiety.
It didn’t help me fall asleep faster, but it did work great during those moments when my head was spinning with worrying thoughts, and my anxiety felt like it was about to unleash full chaos.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Close your mouth and inhale through your nose while counting to four.
- Hold your breath while counting to seven.
- Exhale through your mouth while counting to eight.
- Repeata couple of times.
Here’s a video that will guide you through all the necessary steps:
The reason why the 4-7-8 technique is so effective is that it allows more oxygen to enter the lungs. The surplus of oxygen has a relaxing effect on your nervous system and induces a state of calm throughout your entire body. During stressful periods, your nervous system is overstimulated, causing your anxiety to go off the charts.
Once you practice this breathing technique and your body reaches a state of calm, your mind will also be free of the adverse effects of anxiety.
Try it. It really works!
#4 Alternate Nostril Breathing
If you struggle with anxiety, this exercise will help you feel more in control, focus better on your surroundings, and clear away worrying thoughts. Getting some headspace can make the negative thoughts and concerns that generate anxiety go away for a while, thus allowing you to enjoy a moment of peace.
A recent study exploring the benefits of this breathing technique revealed that unilateral nostril breathing could significantly decrease anxiety.
The plus side is that you can do this exercise anytime, anywhere. It only takes 10 minutes!
Here’s what you need to do:
- Sit in a comfortable position. You can sit on a couch, bed, or any place that makes you feel comfortable.
- Put your right thumb over your right nostril.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your left nostril. As deeply as you can inhale.
- Now, hold your breath and cover your left nostril with your right finger, leaving the right one open.
- Exhale through the right nostril.
- Repeat this exercise a few times, and you’ll begin to feel your head clearing up.
Here’s also a video that will guide you through all the steps of alternate nostril breathing:
Remember, inhale through the right nostril, and exhale through the left one.
As quick and simple as that!Alternate Nostril Breathing is a very effective breathing technique against anxiety. Here's how to do it ... Click To Tweet
#5 Equal Breathing
When stress reaches critical levels, chances are you might experience breathing difficulties. While this symptom can be extremely unpleasant, it also gives you the opportunity to regain your calm.
To put it differently, you can start feeling better by regaining control over your breathing. It’s amazing how getting a handle on the bodily reactions associated with stress can generate a mental state of calm.
As the name suggests, equal breathing involves taking balanced breaths of air.
Here’s how you do it:
- Breathe in through your nose while counting to five.
- Breathe out through your nose while counting to five.
- Repeat until your stress goes away.
Here’s a short video that will help you practice equal breathing:
To Sum Up
Anxiety is a rapidly increasing problem, and if not monitored properly, can become a real nightmare.
While learning to manage anxiety may be a long-term process, dealing with it as soon as it begins to ‘wreak havoc’ will help you gain a sense of control. That, in turn, will motivate you to ‘push’ harder and keep your anxiety in check so that you can prevent future anxiety attacks.
It may be challenging to steer clear of anxiety, especially with your busy schedule, but setting aside 10 minutes for your daily breathing exercises will keep you healthy (physically and mentally) and happy.
So, what do you think about the breathing exercises discussed in this post? Have you tried any of them? Did they help? Share your experience and the results that you had by leaving a comment below!
Clinical Psychologist, Licensed CBT Therapist.
I’m a Clinical Psychologist and a licensed Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy practitioner. My work focuses mainly on strategies designed to manage and prevent the most common mental issues – anxiety, depression, and stress.
When I’m not busy with my therapeutic practice or other work-related activities, I enjoy going out for a jog or hit the nearby gym.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via LinkedIn (link below), or through the Contact Us page.