Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on January 12, 2021

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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:

Advertising

  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.

Advertising

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.

5 Breathing Exercises for Anxiety (Simple and Calm Anxiety Quickly) 13 Ideas on How to Help Depression That Just Won’t Go Away 10 Anxiety Relief Apps to Take the Edge Off When Stress Hits Hard Anxiety vs Depression: What’s the Difference and How to Deal with Them? What Does Anxiety Feel Like? (Types and Symptoms of the Invisible Killer)

Trending in Mental Wellness

1 How To Not Stress: 10 Stress Management Techniques 2 3 Common Causes Of Stress That Are Depleting Your Energy 3 15 Meditation Benefits That Will Make You Successful 4 8 Daily Habits To Develop Emotional Intelligence 5 Diet for Depression: 8 Foods To Eat And Avoid

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Published on March 2, 2021

How To Not Stress: 10 Stress Management Techniques

How To Not Stress: 10 Stress Management Techniques

It is not easy to decipher how to not stress, as stress is a part of life. Stress is the wear and tear of our mental and physical being as we continue to find soothing ways to cope with the constant change in our surroundings.

People often think of stress as related to work, chores at home, illnesses, and trying to beat rush hour traffic—which is not wrong—but it is more. Several factors trigger stress, but stress is the body’s internal reaction to fight or take flight in the presence of adversity.

In simple biological terms, stress is the state of increased arousal necessary for the human body to defend itself from a clear and present danger. Whenever we feel anxious, angered, tired, frightened, happy, excited, sad, or afraid, we are undergoing stress.

From minor challenges to major issues, stress is an acceptable and unavoidable pressure of human life. Stress is normal until we are incapable of controlling and coping with the overwhelming effect that stress becomes a problem.

Three in every four adults American suffer from stress—that is about 77 percent of the population.[1] Stress is triggered by anything from the economy, jobs, home front, kids, illnesses, and so on.

Types of Stress

In learning how not to stress, you must understand the types of stress and how you encourage it in your life. The causes of stress (stressors) are varied and multiple, but I am grouping them into two sectors.

External Stressors

These are external triggers that affect your immediate ability to stay focused or composed. They are:

  • Physical environment – confined spaces, light, noise, heat, brightness, and even darkness
  • Organizational – rules, regulation, deadlines, office gossips, pressure from work, etc
  • Social interaction – bullying, bossiness, disregard, harassment, aggressiveness (general human behavior towards you)
  • Life crises – death, relocation, new baby, marriage, losing your job, divorce, etc
  • Daily hassles – late in catching the bus, misplacing your car/house keys, mechanical breakdown, etc

Internal Stressors

These are stressors that emanate from our thoughts, mindset, and attitude. For example:

  • Your lifestyle – not getting enough sleep, busy schedules, caffeine or alcohol
  • Negative thoughts – pessimism, self-criticism, overthinking, feeling incapable.
  • Mind traps – being too personal about issues, unrealistic expectations, exaggerated or rigid mindset, etc
  • Personality traits – workaholic, OCD, perfectionist, etc

These factors contribute heavily to mental and physical stress leading to fear, anger, unforgiveness, and depression.

Stress and You

To consider stress as an ailment of modernity and technology is misinforming. Yes, our fast-paced lives and lifestyle are stressful, straining, and under relentless pressure. But we have actually created these triggers on our own. This is due to a desire for intense competitiveness and to match up with our peers. Stress is different for every individual, even if they are in the same situation.

Advertising

For example, a couple going through a bitter divorce will see the man enjoying himself while the lady suffers from bouts of emotional ups and downs. What is distressing to you may be nothing to another.

Take this example: a man works effectively in the comfort of his home yet finds working in a team or office stressful and overwhelming.

It is necessary to know that most of the stresses we experience are self-generated and self-induced. How we perceive (life)—whether a situation is threatening, sad, or happy—depends on how we see ourselves. The ability to recognize the stresses we create is the first step toward preventing stress.

Symptoms of Stress

Excessive, prolonging, and denying the existent of stress in our lives is detrimental and affects our entirety—and if left unresolved, results in a feeling of fear, anger, frustration, and depression.

Stress contributes to simple illnesses like headaches, skin diseases, ulcers, insomnia, and digestive problems. In severe cases, stress can lead to suicidal thoughts and death. The following are the symptoms of stress grouped into four categories.

Physical Symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Change in sleep pattern without any obvious reason
  • Unstable digestive system resulting in diarrhea and inability to hold down food
  • Low sexual libido
  • Headaches and body pain
  • Dizziness, unnecessary sweating, and feeling faint
  • Palpitations, breathlessness, quickened heartbeats, or missed heartbeats

Mental Symptoms

  • Inability to focus
  • Memory lapses
  • Indecisiveness
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Fear/panic attack

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Eating disorder and appetite
  • Increase smoking and alcohol intake
  • Restlessness, fidgeting, and nail-biting

Emotional Symptoms

  • Depression
  • Easily irritated
  • Anger, rage, cry easily
  • Deterioration in hygiene habit and appearance

The primary triggers of stress are lack of financial stability, job security, family responsibility, personal relationship, health issues, and safety. Now that we have successfully categorized stress, it is time to recognize the one you are suffering from and choose a simple technique to manage it.

Remember, stress can be controlled, allowing you to live a fulfilling life.

10 Stress Management Techniques

The most common stress management techniques are eating right, exercise, yoga, and meditation. However, some stress is beyond these four techniques, so we will try to list out as many as possible to help you beat that stressful situation.

A set of simple yet effective techniques to help individuals identify, understand, and effectively deal with the stress in their lives to minimize the impact.

1. Change the Perspective

How many times have you replayed a negative situation and outcome in your head that never happens? We are all human, and as crazy as it sounds, negativity is appealing and more creative than positive things. However, stress is tied to negativity and our inability to break free from them.

Advertising

Changing your perspective is not as simple as ABC. However, you can start by analyzing the feeling, removing all exaggerated parts, pick out the truth (be honest here) and discard the rest. Phew, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Now, take the truth and work on it from a positive angle. You will immediately feel less stressed, disoriented, and angered. It will take some time, but never judge an issue from an exaggerated point of view.

2. Create a Journal

A problem shared is half solved. While we cannot all go about blabbing our predicaments to others, an effective way of sharing and solving is journaling. There is really nothing difficult about journaling—it is just you writing the day’s events and how they made you feel.

Stress takes clarity, focus, and awareness of our immediate environment from us. Well, journaling restores them back to you. When you write down your feelings, you can identify, understand and deal with them better than replaying them in your head. It allows you to separate your feelings, accurately define emotion connect with your internal aura for better clarity.

3. Mindful Breathing

Stress takes peace and stability away from your life. Breathing is held in high regard by Buddhists, Hindus, and Taoists who believe breathing is a system of reintroducing peace into a troubled soul.

Mindful breathing is breathing that comes from the pit of your belly. It is, deep consistent, and stress relieving breathes which calm you down.

Mindful breathing can be done anyway in two easy steps:

  • Gentle inhale air to fill your lungs and stomach while slowly counting to 3 or five through your nose
  • Hold for a second or two and gradually exhale while counting 1 through 5

Repeat this as many times as possible until you feel your power returning to you. As you exhale, imagine that you are breathing out the stressors and tension.

4. Positive and Guided Daydreaming

We all daydream—some are good, and others run wild with our imagination. Using guided images and thoughts, you can avert a stress situation from escalating.

For example, you just had a heated argument with your spouse on the phone, and you are at work. Two things can happen: have your mood down all day, or you can identify the stress and calm dissipate it with happier images—daydreaming.

Advertising

Close your eyes and imagine a happy memory. Use good thoughts to counteract negative ones ad build your confidence from deep within. Also, forgive the situation and yourself, else you will keep playing the thought in your mind.

5. Go Back to Your To-Do List

If you cannot complete the chores, let it be. Remember that trying to squeeze in more than you can handle is actually killing you gradually. Even superman rests once in a while, so you should, too.

Reducing or prioritizing your workload could be the solution to the constant headaches, backaches, and shoulders. If you are a mom, learn to delegate duties to your kids or allocate time to work for yourself.

6. Yoga It

Yoga is an Indian form of meditation that combines simple poses, deep breathing, and relaxation techniques to ward off stress and stressors. Yoga is an effective stress relief technique because it deals with the physical, emotional, and mental organs that stress hacks into. The immediate benefits of yoga are felt immediately, but the long-term impact is also beautiful.

To get started, you can follow simple yoga programs online or enroll in a class to help you to master the poses at your own pace. Yoga enables you to breathe easily, improves the clarity of thoughts and mind, relaxes the body and mental health. However, if the twist and turns of yoga are not for you, then you will enjoy the next technique.

7. Add Exercise to Your Routine

Our body is like a car engine, if you do not maintain it, it will crash when you need it most. Regular exercise builds a strong body, no doubt. However, it also builds a strong mind to deal with stresses that affect us daily. You do not have to HIIT or do any strenuous exercise, choose something simple and for 7 to 15 minutes every day.

Joining a gym or community fitness center is outstanding, but you can choose to walk, run, jog, swim or go dancing. The idea is to keep your body moving for fun. Furthermore, if you are the outdoorsy type, indulge in your passion and watch the stress melt away.

8. Massage and Detox Therapy

When your insides are unclean, it can lead to stress. Equally, tired and over-working can double the stress effect leading to illness and mental breakdown.

There are many reasons to go for a massage, and stress is one of them. Massages are an ideal tool for maintaining physical and emotional health. While detoxification is a way to relieve the stress on your internal organs, both will make you feel light and relaxed.

9. Imbibe in the Power of Positive Affirmations

The power of positive talk has proven to increases positive emotion, compassion, and confidence in the speaker. How we treat ourselves determines the outcome. If you begin the day with negativity, you are likely to attract negativity and problems to yourself.

Advertising

However, if you take your time to affirm positive thoughts in your life, you will succeed. Affirmations are more than mere words; they are meant to awaken the optimistic and daring part of your being.

So, when you feel that negative emotions are building up or images are flashing before your eyes, take a moment and remind yourself of your capabilities and believe it, too. What you perceive is what you are.

10. Getting Enough Sleep

Let’s be honest, it is almost impossible to get 8 hours of sleep as recommended, but you can get a good night’s sleep instead. Many people sleep for 8 hours or more but are restless in their sleep and wake up feeling exhausted, drained, and stressed.

Sleep is a fundamental way for the body to recuperate for the day’s activities. However, your sleeping condition should be prioritized for relaxing sleep. To do this, ensure your mattress is comfortable and your bedroom is at the right temperature.

If you cannot get 8 hours at night, try to nap in the afternoons and watch your diet before bed. Finally, create a sleep routine. You do not have to “do-or-die” it, but gradually ease your way into better sleep.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, stress is the baggage you refuse to let go of. The more you pile on, the deeper you are sinking into a place of darkness.

Let go of the excess load now. Start by following these stress management techniques on how not to stress. Do you have one or two methods you are currently using to relieve stress? Feel free to add them to the list.

More Tips on Stress Management

Featured photo credit: whoislimos via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] American Psychological Association: Stress in America™ 2020

Read Next