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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 May 22, 2019

10 Simple Morning Exercises That Will Make You Feel Great All Day

10 Simple Morning Exercises That Will Make You Feel Great All Day

There are lots of studies that show if you do some exercise in the morning, you will be in a better mood all day long. You will have more energy and you will certainly be a better colleague, friend or partner.

One psychologist at Duke University has researched the effects of exercise on depressed patients and he has come to the conclusion that exercise has a definite role in treating this condition and has an important role in preventing people from relapsing.[1] According to the New York Times, scientists have now established that exercise also boosts your brain power.[2]

In addition, there are studies from the Appalachian State University which show that blood pressure can be reduced by doing regular morning exercise.[3]

Here are 10 simple morning exercises that will help you feel great the whole day long. You can include some of them in your morning exercise routine or do them all at home without having to enrol in a gym. Consult your doctor before starting any form of exercise routine if you are new to this.

1. Cat Camel Stretch

Stretching exercises are useful for muscle toning and also preventing arthritis. They can either be dynamic or static.

Dynamic ones such as the cat camel stretch, are particularly useful for doing other exercises in the morning. They are also beneficial at other times of the day, especially after long periods of sedentary work. This one is great for spinal flexibility and is a good warm up exercise.

Kneel down on all fours. Start by rounding your back just like a camel so that your head will try to meet your pelvis. This is the camel position. Then lower and lift your head so that your lower back is arched. This is the cat position. Do these movements slowly and smoothly. About 4 or 5 times.

Here’s a video to guide you through:

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2. Go for a Walk or a Run

This is better done outside so that you can connect with nature but running inside on a treadmill is almost as good. You can time yourself and increase length and time according to your fitness program.

Always have new goals to reach. Start with brisk walking and work up to running. At my age, I am still walking!

The health benefits are considerable. You can build stronger bones and you can help to maintain your weight.

Also, you are helping your heart to stay healthy and keeping your blood pressure low.

Learn more about the benefits of running here: 8 Benefits of Running 5 Minutes Every Day You Didn’t Know

3. Jumping Jacks

Michelle Obama is a great fan of this exercise and has become “Jumper in Chief.”[4] They are great for cardiovascular health and also for toning muscles especially the calves and the deltoids.

Stand with feet together. Jump while spreading your arms and legs. Return to first position and keep going! You can start with doing these for 1 minute and then gradually build up to the number you are comfortable with. Here’s how:

4. Abductor Side Lifts

Watch the video below to see how to do this exercise. These muscles are important because you use them everyday to run, get into the car or onto and off a bicycle. They are very important also for your core stability and prevent the pelvis from tilting.[5]

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Do about 10 to 15 raises for each side like this:

5. Balancing Table Pose

This is a classic yoga pose. It benefits the spine, balance, memory and concentration.

Start with the table pose (hands and knees). Breathe in before starting each movement. As you exhale, raise your left leg parallel to the floor as you raise the right arm, also parallel to the floor. Breathe in as you lower arm and leg. Repeat for the other side. 10 repetitions on each side is a good starting point.

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    6. Leg Squats

    Not just legs are involved but also hips and knees.

    Stand with your feet a bit further out from your hips. Arms are out in front of you. Then lower yourself as if you wanted to sit down until you reach a 90 degree angle. You can go down further if you want to. Then return to the starting position. Repeat 15 times for 2 sets for beginners.

    The benefits are that these exercises help with knee stability and can benefit the leg muscles such as quadriceps, hamstrings and calves.[6]

    7. Push Ups

    You start lying down (face down) but with your body held up at arm’s length. Your hands should be in line with your shoulders. Breathe in as you lower your body. That is fairly easy. Now, as you exhale, you have to get back up to the starting position.

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    An easier version to start with is to bend your legs at the knees so you do not have to lift your whole body.

    Beginners may take up to a month to be able to do 100 push ups so you will have to start with a very small number and gradually increase it.

    This exercise is great for strengthening the chest, shoulders and the triceps. It is a great strengthening exercise for many muscle groups. In fact, most muscles from the toes to the shoulders are being used.

    8. Bicycle Crunches

    There are numerous crunch exercises targeting the abs. The bicycle crunch is a variation where you work more muscle groups. Aim for 15 to 20 reps to start off with.

    Watch the video to see how this is done correctly:

    9. Lunges

    Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Place your hand on your hips. Take one giant step forward with the right leg. Make sure the knee does not go too far forward, that is, past your toes. The left knee will go down to almost floor level. Alternate the legs as you go on.

    Try to do a set of between 8 and 12 reps for each leg. It is important to allow for a day of rest, so this exercise should be done on alternate days, especially if you are using weights.

    This exercise is great for strengthening and toning the quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings.

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    10. Bicep Curls

    You can do this sitting down so if you spend a lot of time on the phone, this is a great exercise to do.

    Choose suitable dumbbells or another household object that you can easily hold. Sit down with the dumbbell in your hand. You need to sit forward a bit so that your triceps can lean on your thigh to give you support.

    Then bring the weighted arm up to shoulder length and then down again. Exhale as you lift the weight and inhale as you lower it.

    Here’re some important notes before you start doing this exercise:

    Try to do one or two sets of about ten repetitions for each arm and then switch arms.

    These exercises are really useful for toning the arm muscles.[7] In addition, they can strengthen and tone the brachioradialis muscle located in the forearm. These are the muscles we use to pick up things when we flex the arm at the elbow so we use these muscles countless times a day.

    You may have to build in a rest day for the heavier exercises, numbers 6–10. On the rest days, you can do gentler stretching exercises and also some walking or running.

    Morning exercise is not only a great mood booster, but will help you keep your weight down and also sleep better![8] Start including one or some of these exercises in your morning routine!

    More Articles About Exercises for Beginners

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

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