Breathing exercises for anxiety

Breathing techniques make up an essential part of meditative practises, and is fundamental to yoga. Thankfully, you don’t have to practise yoga to do breathing exercises for anxiety. Anybody can receive the benefits of correct breathing, and calming breathing techniques.

So, how does it work? Sometimes, but very rarely, incorrect breathing can lead to anxiety and a panic attack. Usually though, it’s anxiety and panic attacks that lead to incorrect breathing (which then make the anxiety and panic worse). Breathing exercises for anxiety teach us how to breathe properly, which is essential for a bodies and minds if they are to function optimally. Most of us breathe too shallowly, or even tend to hold our breaths. Mindfulness in our breathing helps to reduce anxiety and stress, and also has other benefits such as sleeping more soundly and feeling more energized.

1. Stop Hyperventilating
This technique is mainly aimed at those having an anxiety attack. When panicked, we start breathing more quickly and take in far more oxygen than we need (hyperventilating). This upsets the natural balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and causes many of the uncomfortable physical sensations during anxiety attacks, such as a rapid heartbeat and dizziness.

To stop hyperventilating, cup your hands over your mouth, and start taking slower, longer breaths. It helps if you sit down and are comfortable first. You can also use a paper bag instead of cupping your hands over your mouth. Give yourself a minute or two to start noticing the difference. Once you feel better, you can start resuming breaths as normal.

2. Equal Breathing
This exercise is all done through the nose – both the inhales and the exhales. Take a seated position and get comfortable. Inhale through both nostrils for the count of four, and then gently exhale through both nostrils for another count of four. You can increase the number of counts to six or eight counts as you become more skilled in this technique, just remember to keep the inhales and exhales an equal amount of counts.

This is a great technique to try before bedtime, especially if you sometimes have difficulties falling asleep. Your nervous system will be more relaxed, and it reduces stress.

3. Abdominal Breathing
A great breathing exercise for anxiety in stressful situations, abdominal breaths can lower your heart rate and may even reduce high blood pressure over time (and only if practised consistently). Place one hand over your chest, and position your other hand over your belly. Take a deep breath in through your diaphragm (you’ll know this is correct if your tummy pushes into the hand on your belly). Your lungs should stretch as a result of the breath through your diaphragm. Aim for six to ten deep, slow breaths per minute. This may be hard at first, but will become easier over time.

4. Breathing + Muscle Relaxation
This is a very powerful technique that engages and calms the entire body. Starting at your toes and feet, and working your way up to your face, tense and then release each muscle group (for example, tense your toes for a couple of seconds, and then immediately relax them for the same amount of time). Breathe in through your nose and you tense your muscles, and exhale through the mouth as the muscles relax. This is another great technique to try before bed.

At no point should you be feeling dizzy. This is common among beginners though, because we may not be used to breathing correctly and receiving more oxygen. If this happens, stop and try again. The aim is to be able to do the exercises without feeling dizzy.
You can optimize you breathing exercises for anxiety by adding visualization to the techniques. For example, when doing the muscle relaxation technique, you can visualize all the anxiety and tension leaving your body with every exhale. Breathing exercises should be practised daily to see the true benefits of these exercises over time.

How to stop yourself from having an anxiety attack