Breathing exercises when experiencing anxiety can be extremely effective. Think about a moment when you felt stressed, angry, or anxious and how you felt when someone told you to calm down. It probably wasn’t very helpful, right?
Telling someone to relax isn’t effective if they’re feeling anxious. This is because the prefrontal cortex that controls logical and rational thinking isn’t working. As a result, you cannot control your emotions.
Working on your breathing, on the other hand, is highly effective.
Did you know that you breathe differently, depending on the emotions you experience? Your breathing is deep, slow, and regular when you feel happy and content. Your breathing is short, fast, shallow, and irregular when you are anxious or stressed.
Why is that? In the first case, your parasympathetic nervous system predominates. This branch of the autonomic nervous system is also known as the “rest and digest” response. When you feel stress and anger, the sympathetic nervous system involved in the “fight or flight” response predominates.
How can you switch from anxiety and anger to a calm and relaxed state? Simply change your breathing. This stimulates your vagus nerve, which is part of the parasympathetic nervous system. This will then counteract the fight or flight response.
Below are some of the most effective breathing exercises to relieve anxiety.
Diaphragmatic breathing is also known as abdominal or “low” breathing. It involves breathing from the diaphragm, which is the muscle that separates the lungs and abdomen. The diaphragm is just below the rips and plays a key role in the respiratory process.
To practice diaphragmatic breathing, lie down on a mat or in a comfortable chair. Relax your head, neck, and shoulders while bending your knees.
Place a hand under your rib cage, and one on your chest. Take a breath in through your nose and breathe out through your nose. Observe how the stomach and chest move during your breathing.
Now, try to bring more air deep into the lungs. Breathe in through your nose, observing how your abdomen rises and your chest stays still. The goal is to have your abdomen moving as you breathe instead of your chest. Your stomach muscles have to push the air out of the end of the breath.
Diaphragmatic breathing can become automatic if you practice regularly. Aim for 10 minutes once or twice a day. Add more sessions if needed.
You can practice breathing exercises in a few different ways. For example, you can perform mindfulness meditation by focusing on breathing. As you focus your breath, you eliminate your thoughts while improving breathing patterns. Focus on both inhaling and exhaling.
You can do this standing comfortably, with your eyes open or closed. Keep your back upright, but not too tight. Some prefer to keep the tongue on the roof of the mouth. Tune into your breath and let the breath flow naturally, and do not try to change it. Try to notice if it is abdominal breathing, coming from the chest or nostrils. Simply observe it.
Researchers believe mindfulness meditation can help people cope with stress, anxiety, and depression. Start your day with 10-20 minutes of meditation. Then use extra sessions when you feel stressed as needed. The more you practice, the more benefits you’ll experience over time.
Breathing Out Tension
A second breathing technique is to focus on your breathing and scan your body at the same time. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Observe how you feel and breathe in and breathe out, normally. You may want to change to diaphragmatic breathing for a deeper experience. Now start mentally scanning your body, from your toes up to your head. Notice any pain or tension in a particular part of the body.
Once you notice a part of your body where you feel pain or discomfort simply breathe into the tension. Focus on that spot, breathe into it, and see what happens. Visualize that the tension is leaving your body as you exhale.
Imagine you bring positive thoughts, emotions, and healing with every inhale. You can think of words like “safe” or “calm” when you exhale. Scan your entire body during one session, which should take about 15-20 minutes. Do this every time you feel anxious or any time you can.
These are some of the most effective breathing techniques to decrease anxiety. You can also practice forceful breathing, alternate nostril breathing, guided meditation, equal breathing, and more.
Choose one or two techniques that you enjoy because consistency is key. Use breathing techniques regularly to benefit from them. You can also follow free apps on your phone to remind you to practice.