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If you’re feeling anxious, breathing deeply is one of the best ways to ease your symptoms in the moment.
We’ve all had those moments of anxiety and nervousness, whether we’re preparing for a big test or job interview. We’re no strangers to feelings of worry or fear during stressful moments.
But have you ever noticed your breathing in those moments?
When we’re relaxed, our breathing is deep and calm. But when we’re anxious, our breathing becomes more shallow, and we breathe faster.
Rapid, shallow breathing can lead to other problems, including:
- increased heart rate
- muscle tension
Breathing exercises can ease these symptoms and bring your breathing and body back to a relaxed state.
Deep breathing is the conscious act of taking slow, deep breaths. Inhaling air through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.
When we inhale, our blood cells pick up oxygen. As oxygen moves through our bodies, carbon dioxide is created, transported back to the lungs, and released when we exhale.
During moments of anxiety, we tend to breathe from our chest, taking fast, shallow breaths. This causes distress in how our bodies process oxygen and carbon dioxide, which can lead to various symptoms of anxiety, including increases in:
- heart rate
- breathing rate
- blood pressure
Our body’s parasympathetic system, though, prevents this reaction and returns the body to a relaxed state. Deep breathing can trigger this response and help calm you during stressful situations.
When your body is anxious or stressed, your heart rate and breathing rate change. Your blood pressure increases, and your muscles tense, preparing for the flight, fight, or freeze response.
Deep breathing is one of the best ways to help you calm down and relax. It can help:
- lower your blood pressure and heart rate
- lower levels of stress
- reduce lactic acid buildup, which causes muscle tension
- improve your immune system
- increase your feelings of well-being and calm
Besides being helpful at reducing anxiety, deep breathing can help with other mental health conditions, such as:
If you’re looking to manage stress and reduce anxiety, there’re several breathing methods you can try.
This technique can be helpful for
Box breathing is one of the easiest breathing exercises to learn and to practice.
Here are the steps:
- Breathe in through your nose while you count to 4 in your head.
- Hold your breath for a count of 4.
- Exhale through your mouth for a count of 4.
- Hold your breath for a count of 4.
You can adjust your count to 2 seconds instead of 4, if that works best for you.
Pursed-lip breathing reduces the number of breaths you take and keeps your airways open longer. This exercise allows you to do more physical activities because more air flows in and out of your lungs.
Here are the steps:
- Inhale slowly through your nose for about 2 seconds.
- Then, purse or pucker your lips like you’re blowing out a candle.
- Finally, exhale through your pursed lips for about 4 seconds.
You can try this technique several times a day, or whenever you feel anxious.
Belly (abdominal) breathing
The American Institute of Stress suggests practicing this breathing technique at least 20-30 minutes a day to help reduce stress and anxiety.
- Try lying on your back on a bed or with a pillow under your head or legs, or sitting in a chair cross-legged.
- Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly, under the rib cage.
- Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose. Focus on drawing your breath in toward your stomach.
- Purse your lips like you’re drinking from a straw, press on your stomach gently, and exhale slowly through your mouth.
You can try doing this technique 3 to 4 times a day for about 5 to 10 minutes.
Paced breathing is slow and deep. You typically take 12 to 14 breaths a minute. With paced breathing, you take about only 5 to 7 breaths a minute.
For paced breathing, inhale for a count of 2 to 4 seconds, then exhale for 4 to 6 seconds. Here are the steps:
- Start by taking a normal breath, then take a deep breath.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose, letting your chest and belly expand.
- Breathe out slowly through your mouth, pursing your lips and making a swoosh sound.
If you become distracted, you can focus your attention on an object, sounds, image, or your breathing patterns.
The 4-7-8 breathing process, also called the relaxing breath, can help bring the body into a deep state of relaxation. It also might help you fall asleep faster.
Here’s how to do it:
- First, part your lips. Exhale through your mouth, making a whooshing sound.
- Close your lips and inhale through your nose for a count of 4.
- Then, hold your breathe for a count of 7.
- Exhale through your mouth, making the whooshing sound again, for a count of 8.
You can do this technique for four full breaths.
Resonant (coherent) breathing
Resonant breathing, also called resonance frequency breathing, can
This technique is simple and easy to do and can be done almost anywhere. There are only two steps:
- Breathe in slowly for a count of 5.
- Exhale slowly for a count of 5.
You can do this breathing as many times as you want.
Just like it sounds, this breathing technique involves roaring like a lion. This exercise is best done sitting in a chair with your hands on your knees or the floor.
- Spread your fingers wide.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose.
- Open your mouth wide, stick out your tongue, and stretch it toward your chin.
- Breathe out, making a “ha” sound. Dig down deep for this one.
- Then, breathe regularly for a few seconds.
You can do this technique up to seven times. It can be added to your yoga routine or to any relaxation technique to reduce stress in a fun way.
Deep breathing is a simple but overlooked exercise and is the best way to ease anxiety. Deep breathing exercises can be done almost anywhere and at any time.
If you’re considering adding these breathing techniques to help ease your anxiety, here are a few tips on how to get started:
- Schedule a time. Choose a time to practice. Being consistent will aid your practice, and adding a reminder to your phone or another device may help you remember.
- Start slowly, then gradually build. Try practicing 5 minutes a day. If that doesn’t work, start with 2 minutes. You can gradually increase your time as you get more comfortable.
- Add it to your routine. If you can, incorporate these exercises into your daily routine. They may help you ward off anxiety when it arises.
- Monitor your progress. Keep a log of the exercises that work for you. Track your symptoms before and during the exercise and make a note of them. If you experience any unpleasant symptoms, stop.
If you need help learning or practicing deep breathing methods, consider using an app that focuses on deep breathing.
Here are some deep breathing apps that might be useful:
- Liberate, dedicated to servicing the Black or African American communities
- Breathe+ Simple Breath Trainer
- Breathe In
You can also check out these pages for more information.
If you feel yourself becoming anxious, sometimes all it takes to ease those feelings is a deep breath.
Creating the routine that caters to your needs might help ease your anxiety before it even arises.
Don’t worry about doing it perfectly! No one’s an expert the first time.
If you try one and it doesn’t work, keep trying. It might take some trial and error before you find the right breathing technique that fits your needs.