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5 Breathing Exercises for Anxiety (Simple and Calm Anxiety Quickly)

5 Breathing Exercises for Anxiety (Simple and Calm Anxiety Quickly)

Time and time again, we’re told what a powerful tool breathing exercises can be for reducing anxiety and more specifically, the physical effects anxiety has on our body.

Yet how often have you gone hunting to find suitable breathing exercises for anxiety only to bump into a string of complex yoga jargon and techniques that take so long to master that they’re just not fit for purpose?

After all, when you’re in the grip of crippling anxiety or -worse- a full-blown panic attack, you simply don’t have the time to assume the lotus position and start worrying pranayama, whatever that is.

What you need is quick, simple solutions you can apply right there on the spot to relax your breathing and return to feeling calm and in control within seconds.

Today, we’ll look at five of the best breathing techniques for doing just that, ranging from powerful techniques you can use to curtail anxiety before it escalates, to quick-fixes you can use in an emergency whenever a panic attack strikes.

Why do breathing exercises for anxiety work?

Stop what you’re doing and take a deep breath. Doesn’t it just feel better?

In that moment, you’re focused only on that breath. Your mind isn’t occupied with reading this article, listening to background noise or getting lost in the thousand and one thoughts rushing through your mind. Instead, it’s tuned only to that breath, on the slow, deep inhale and calm, relaxing exhale.

Take another deep breath and this time, pay attention to how you feel. This time, you’ll notice that not only is your mind clearer because of the reason mentioned above but also that you feel physically different, even if only for a moment.

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This is because, as you focus on those slow, deep breaths, you’re sending a message to your brain that it’s time for calm. Your brain, in turn, sends messages throughout your body that result in that feeling of calm washing gently over you.

Now, compare this to what happens when you’re in the grip of anxiety.

When you get anxious, you tend to do what’s called thoracic -or chest- breathing, releasing quick, shallow breaths in rapid succession.

Often, instead of slowing down your breathing, you get caught up in how those rapid breaths make you feel as though you’re not getting enough oxygen, thus escalating the level of panic. This sends all kinds of confusing signals to the brain which, in response, sends its own signals back through the body, negatively affecting your levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide. As a result, your blood isn’t sufficiently oxygenated and thus you end up with all the classic symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks such as a thumping heart, dizziness and muscle tension.

When you finally take note of our breathing and consciously return it to slow, even diaphragmatic breathing (breathing using your diaphragm), you signal to your brain that it’s time to correct the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, alleviating those symptoms and making you feel calm and relaxed in the process.

So, that’s the science stuff out of the way, but how do you actually use breathing exercises for anxiety?

Quick and effective breathing exercises for anxiety

Here are five quick and effective techniques you can use right now, or whenever you need them, to return yourself to a peaceful state of calm.

1. Easy abdominal breathing technique

Let’s start with one of the simplest and most effective techniques available.

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You might have seen this referred to as “belly breathing” or “diaphragmatic breathing techniques.” Whatever name you see it by, the technique is essentially the same.

Here’s a video to help you go through the technique:

Abdominal breathing technique in action:

  1. Sitting or lying in a comfortable position, close your eyes, relax your shoulders and allow any tension in your muscles to disappear if at all possible.
  2. Inhale deeply and slowly through your nose. Your bellow should expand whilst your chest rises very little. If it helps, you can put your hand on your bellow and feel the inhaled breath pushing that hand up.
  3. Exhale slowly through your mouth. Keeping your jaw relaxed, purse your lips as you blow, though remember to keep the exhale nice and gentle. Again, you can keep your hand on your stomach and very lightly push down as you exhale.
  4. Repeat for several minutes until you feel calm again.

Like most of these exercises, you may find it helpful to practice this one even when you’re feeling anxious. That way, you’ll know just what to do when the time comes that you do need to use it.

2. Buteyko breathing method

One common symptom of an anxiety or panic attach is hyperventilating. This involves breathing so rapidly that it almost feels that you just can’t get enough oxygen into your lungs no matter what you do.

In actual fact, the very opposite is happening. Hyperventilation is caused by too much oxygen getting in, upsetting the oxygen/carbon dioxide balance and inducing those feelings of panic. The Buteyko method readdresses that balance, proving itself to be highly effective in stopping hyperventilation.

Here’s a video to help you go through the technique:

Buteyko breathing method in action:

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  1. Sit comfortably, take a gentle breathe in through the nose.
  2. Just as gently, breathe out, again through the nose.
  3. Immediately following the exhale, pinch your nose with your fingers and hold your breath.
  4. Continue to hold your breath for as long as you can.
  5. When you feel a natural urge to breathe again, let go of the nose and breathe out.
  6. Resume breathing as normally as possible.
  7. Wait for 30 – 60 seconds and repeat until you feel calm and relaxed.

3. 1:4:2 Power breaths

Fans of best-selling author and performance coach Tony Robbins may already be familiar with this one.

Featured in Robbins’ groundbreaking 2001 book Unlimited Power, this powerful technique can help you quickly move from the short, shallow thoracic breathing that creates panic attacks to the deep, slow diaphragmatic breathing that leaves us calm and relaxed:

Like all the breathing exercises we’re looking at today, this one has the added benefit that by focussing on it and it alone, we’re able to take our thoughts away from the anxiety trigger, putting our minds in a clear, calm state from which we can better tackle what’s in front of us.

It’s called 1:4:2 because that’s the ratio used to determine how long to inhale, hold and exhale a breath. Using that ratio for an initial count of five, for example, the technique would look like this:

1:4:2 in action:

  1. Inhale for five seconds
  2. Hold the breath in for 20 seconds
  3. Exhale for 10 seconds.

If you find that this is too much, you can always adjust the number of seconds providing you stick to the same ratio.

You could, for example, do the following:

  1. Inhale for three seconds
  2. Hold the breath for 12 seconds
  3. Exhale for six seconds.

Tony Robbins recommends doing 10 “power breaths” three times a day, though even if you don’t remember to do it throughout your day, repeating this exercise ten times when you’re struggling with anxiety can really help with alleviating the symptoms you’re dealing with.

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4. Equal breathing

If all that talk of numbers and ratios causes you more anxiety than it solves, here’s a much simpler version. This one focuses on breathing in and our for an equal number of breaths:

Equal breathing in action:

  1. Breathe in slow and steady through the nose for a count of four.
  2. Relax and exhale for the same count of four.
  3. Repeat until feeling calm and relaxed.

You might also find it helpful to use this one before bed if your anxiety is causing you sleep problems.

5. Alternate nostril breathing

Finally, we come to one of the trickier breathing exercises for anxiety, albeit one that can prove hugely beneficial in helping us move from thoracic to diaphragmatic breathing, as well as regaining focus when anxiety sends your thoughts into a spin.

Here’s a video to help you go through the technique:

Alternate nostril technique in action:

  1. Place your right thumb over your right nostril.
  2. Breathe in through your left nostril.
  3. Put your finger over your left nostril and breathe out through the right nostril.
  4. Alternate breathing in through one nostril and out through the other, blocking whichever nostril you’re not using.

Choose the best breathing exercises for your anxiety

Whilst some of these techniques are best used in specific circumstances (such as Buteyko for hyperventilation), each one ultimately achieves the same result — Getting us out of those fast, shallow breaths that cause our anxiety symptoms and back into the deep, relaxing breaths that leave us feeling calm.

To determine which one is best for you, you might want to take some time to practice each one and decide for yourself which is the most effective in alleviating your anxiety.

Featured photo credit: Pixabay via pixabay.com

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Chris Skoyles

Coach, and trainee counsellor specializing in mental health and addiction.

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Last Updated on November 6, 2020

10 Ways to Quickly Boost Your Workout Motivation

10 Ways to Quickly Boost Your Workout Motivation

You come in from a long day at the office, and you want to get a workout in, but you can’t find the motivation. Or maybe you think you have workout motivation, but “life” is getting in the way.

Making your workout a priority and finding ways to fit it into your schedule will offer you a host of health benefits, help you lose weight, and make you feel like you’ve got your mojo back.

Working out will be a lot easier if you view it as a gift you give to yourself versus a distasteful activity you have to get through. Think about your health and vitality — by working out, you are treating yourself as a priority and coming from a place of self-love.

Studies show that regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory and thinking skills.[1] So if you’re using the excuse that work is taking over too much for you to have time to work out, think of your workout as a part of your work day. You’re helping your brain be sharper at work.

“Healthy exercise is valuable not only for the maintenance of good physiologic function of the body, but also mental clarity, and the feeling of good health.” —Paul Dudley White, MD

Once you’re ready to make your fitness goals a priority and give yourself the gift of regular exercise routines, how do you implement your workout plans into your daily life?

Here are 10 ways to boost your workout motivation. These strategies will help you keep your fire for working out going strong.

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1. Commit to Your Calendar

Say you want to work out for 30 minutes 3 times a week. Look at your calendar for that week and see where those spots will fit in the best. Then, make a commitment to sticking to those times.

One exercise study showed that a big obstacle to maintaining regular exercise is being able to fit it into a person’s schedule.[2] Make these appointments with yourself unbreakable. Maybe you can handle variety, so one day a week you might have an early morning workout. Another day that week, you might fit it in after work.

2. Start Your Day with 20 Minutes for Your Workout

You may have great intentions for working out after work or during a lunch hour, but inevitably other commitments will encroach into that time and kill your workout motivation.

If you get on up and knock out your workout first thing, you reap the benefits all day long of that energy boost. This workout could be a morning walk or hitting the yoga mat right when you get out of bed.

3. Expand Your Horizons and Seek out Variety

Our brains crave variety. If you are stuck in the rut of the same old workout, it might be time to stretch yourself.

Brainstorm some wild ideas that sound appealing to you. Look for fencing classes in your area. See if there’s a place near you where you can rent kayaks, and look for some local outdoor clubs where you could go kayaking with others.

Even if the new thing you try is challenging, give yourself some time to stick with it enough to see if it might be for you.

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4. Include Social Time in Your Workout

Having a hard time fitting in a workout because of your social life? Instead of only getting together with your friends at the wine bar, see if you can schedule a hike in the park with them, or you could join a rec league like kickball. You could talk a friend into joining with you, or you could sign up by yourself and meet some new pals.

Some exercise research has reported that competition is a key motivator for exercise, and you can use that to your advantage in one of these leagues.[3]

Other opportunities include playing basketball or tennis at local parks, gyms, or fitness centers. Scope out some ways to make your workout more social or combine fitness activities with your social life to create more workout motivation.

5. Use Music to Inspire You

Is your playlist stale? Spend some time creating a great workout playlist. Search Spotify or create some motivating stations on Pandora.

Think about what songs make you move. If you hear that song, you just can’t sit still. Even the theme song from Rocky might be a good motivator for you.

You can create multiple theme playlists to spark more creativity and fun in your workout. How about making a playlist of Best All-Time Roller Skating Songs? Or Best Heavy Metal Workout Songs? Best 80’s Workout Playlist (maybe it includes Let’s Get Physical).

6. Find Some Cool Podcasts

If music isn’t really your thing, download podcasts or audiobooks that interest you. Getting lost in a good podcast or audiobook can make the time fly by during your workout. And if you get the satisfaction of “multi-tasking” — you’re getting your exercise in while reading a book or staying up to date on a podcast.

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For an extra boost of workout motivation, if you’re listening to an audiobook, stop it at a cliffhanger and decide not to listen again until the next time you work out. This will motivate you to start exercising so you can see exactly what happens.

7. Update Your Gear

Maybe you’re not up for working out because your workout gear is from the dark ages. If you go to pull out a T-shirt for your workout, and it’s full of holes, it’s time to re-do your workout wardrobe.

Think of getting new workout gear as investing in yourself. How often do we make sure our living rooms or kitchens are state of the art, but we don’t put any time, energy, or money into our personal effects?

It could be as simple as getting a new water bottle. Making sure you have supportive and properly fitting shoes is key to achieving your workout goals. And if you get a new workout tee or tights, it can make you more motivated to get moving.

8. Get Organized for Your Workout

Set out what you need as motivation for your workout. If you are going on a morning run, lay out your workout clothes alongside some motivational quotes the night before. Fill your water bottle and set it on the counter.

For the after-work exercisers, pack your bag of clothes to take with you to work so you have no excuse not to go to the gym. If you are coming home after work, set your clothes out so that when you come home they will be a not-so-gentle reminder to you saying, “It’s time to go on your walk!”

9. Use Alarms as Nudging Reminders

So you’re not a morning person. If you think getting up earlier to squeeze a workout in before work is just not going to happen for you, then set an alarm for the time you need to start preparing for your workout in the afternoon/evening.

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If you want to go on a walk at 6pm, set an alarm for 5:30pm as a reminder. When you hear the alarm, it’s a workout motivation reminder. You don’t want to shirk on your health and fitness.

10. Trade Exercise for That After-Work Happy Hour

Maybe you are skipping some workouts to meet co-workers at happy hour. Or you come in from a long day at work and have a glass of wine first thing to alleviate the stress of the day. While it’s sometimes nice to unwind with a glass of wine, doing so after work could become a habit, and you can replace that habit with exercise.

By cutting out alcohol right after work, it gives you more time in the day to get a workout in. Try to go straight from work to your workout, or put your exercise clothes on the minute you get home and head back out the door for your run or walk. Whatever it is, think of that happy hour as a new kind of “happy hour time” for your to treat yourself and your body to your workout.

Exercise can help stave off anxiety and depression, so if your post-work drink is to alleviate post-work stress and anxiety, give a neighborhood walk a whirl instead.[4]

The Bottom Line

Life sometimes gets in the way of our plans, including our plans to work out and stick to weight loss goals. However, by maintaining the attitude of self-love and giving yourself the gift of time to exercise, you can use the above tips to help you stay on track with your workout motivation.

By using some organizational tricks and remembering your reasons for making your workout a priority, you’ll not only find the time to fit it in but feel good about doing so.

More on How to Find Workout Motivation

Featured photo credit: juan pablo rodriguez via unsplash.com

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