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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

More by this author

Chris Skoyles

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

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Last Updated on April 2, 2020

10 Quick Easy Workouts To Lose Arm Fat At Home

10 Quick Easy Workouts To Lose Arm Fat At Home

Flabby arms are something a lot of us have to tend to. If you find yourself buying a sweater or cardigan to go with your tank top or usually opt for the long-sleeved dress, then you’re not alone. Usually a result of genes, general excess fat or just ageing, it seems difficult to lose arm fat. The fat in our arms accumulates mainly around the triceps – the muscles on the back of your upper arm – and are prone to getting flabby if not exercised regularly.

What we eat can also play a part in the extent of the jiggle so eating a good, healthy balanced diet as well as keeping well hydrated can put you on the right track. Resistance exercises are the most effective way to blast that underarm fat as well as strengthen, shape and tone your muscles. You can always go down to the gym and work up a sweat but who has time for that? If you want a convenient and quick alternative then you can easily manage an effective routine in the comfort of your own home. All you need is a set of dumbbells and you can start toning up those bingo wings with these 10 easy workouts.

1. Tricep dips

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    Works: Triceps

    • Hands must be positioned shoulder width apart on a secured chair or bench.
    • Position your bum in front of the bench with feet hip-width apart on the floor and legs bent.
    • Straighten out your arms a little, keeping a slight bend from the elbow so to put more emphasis on the tricep and less stress on the elbow.
    • Keeping your back close to the bench, slowly lower your body so that your arms are at a 90-degree angle.
    • Once in this position slowly push off your hands back to the starting position.
    • Do 10-15 reps.

    2. Bicep curls

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    shutterstock_314080697

      Works: Biceps and shoulders

      • Start off with your feet hip-distance apart, holding one dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing out.
      • Starting with your left arm, bend your elbow to slowly bring the weight up to your shoulder holding the position for 5 seconds.
      • Slowly release the elbow and straighten your arm back down to the starting position.
      • Repeat the moves on the right side.
      • Complete 3 sets of 10-15 reps for each arm.

      3. Push ups

      shutterstock_326069966

        Works: Triceps and Deltoids

        • Lying face down, place your hands on the floor roughly shoulder-width apart.
        • Tuck your toes under and gently lift your body up, pushing through your hands and making sure not to lock your elbows.
        • Slowly bend your elbows bringing your face roughly 2-3 inches from the ground.
        • Slowly push back up through your arms. If this is difficult then do the same move but keeping your knees on the floor.
        • Repeat 10-15 times.

        4. Tricep Kickbacks

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          Works: Triceps

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          • Place a weight in each hand and kneel down onto the floor with your toes tucked under.
          • Bend your upper body forward from the hips up and bend your elbows to a 90-degree angle.
          • Extend both your arms backwards while your palms are facing each other.
          • Feel the tension in the triceps and return to the starting position.
          • Do 3 sets of 8-10 reps.

          5. Plank

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            Works: Chest, Shoulders, Biceps and Core

            • Start face-down on the floor, resting on your forearms and knees.
            • Step your feet out so that they are slightly apart and come into the plank position.
            • Make sure your body is straight, parallel to the floor and your bum is tucked in.
            • Pull your abs in and hold the position for as long as you can. Try to aim for 20-30 seconds and build up to a minute.
            • Repeat 3 times.

            6. Tricep Extensions

            shutterstock_314080343

              Works: Triceps

              • Stand on a mat with your feet hip-width apart.
              • Hold one dumbbell with both hands behind your head, bending the elbows.
              • Bring the weight towards the ceiling, straightening your arms above your head.
              • Lower back to starting position.
              • Complete 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps.

              7. Lateral Arm Raises

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                Works: Deltoids

                • Stand with feel hip-width apart. With arms down the side of your body, hold a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing in.
                • Starting with your left side, inhale and slowly raise your arm so that it’s parallel to the floor. Make sure not to lock your elbow by keeping a slight bend.
                • Make sure your arm is straight and palm is facing the floor.
                • Exhale and slowly bring your arm back down to your side.
                • Repeat on the right side.
                • Do 10-15 reps on each side and two sets.

                8. Overhead Press

                shutterstock_314080298

                  Works: Shoulders

                  • Stand up, lining your feet with your hips and hold a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing out.
                  • Bring the weights to your shoulders.
                  • Keep your core muscles tight and straighten your arms above you.
                  • Slowly bring your arms back down to your shoulders.
                  • Do 3 sets of 10-15 reps.

                  9. Bent Over Row

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                    Works: Triceps and Biceps 

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                    • Place your feet shoulder-width apart.
                    • Bend your knees and and then bend your upper body forward from the hips making sure you keep your back nice and straight.
                    • Make sure your hands are straight and placed under your shoulders.
                    • Bend the elbows back while lifting your arms towards the sides of your chest, pulling your shoulder blades towards each other.
                    • Slowly lower the weights in a controlled movement and feel the tension at your triceps.
                    • Repeat 10-15 times.

                    10. Skull Crushers

                    Skull-Crushers

                      Works: Triceps

                      • While holding a dumbbell in each hand, lie on your back with your knees bent.
                      • Slowly raise your arms so they are above your chest, making sure your elbows are straight but not locked.
                      • Slowly lower both arms toward your head, bending your elbows to 90 degrees as the dumbbells reach the mat. Aim to lower your weights so they are on either side of your head  with elbows bent and pressing in toward your head (being careful not to hit yourself in the face).
                      • Lift your arms back to starting position.
                      • Complete 2 or 3 sets, 10-15 reps each.

                      Featured photo credit: Maddi Bazzocco via unsplash.com

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