Top Breathing Exercises To Reduce Anxiety
May 6, 2020
For anyone closely following the news in recent times, it might seem like the world is ending. You might also know someone who got sick or someone who is struggling. It might even be you or your spouse who got laid off or don’t feel well, either physically or mentally, in forced self-isolation.
Given all these circumstances, it’s no wonder that more of us than ever feel anxious more of the time. This is where it’s important to pause and take a careful look at our emotional state. If left unchecked, anxiety can trigger shallow breathing, which in turn activates our fight-or-flight response system and can easily spill into full-blown panic attacks, with sweating, shaking and actual shortness of breath.
Naturally, we should learn to deal with anxiety at its early stage, when it’s still easy to manage, and this is where deep breathing exercises can be the perfect solution.
How To Do Relaxing Breathing Exercises?
As we mentioned above, anxiety is often associated with shallow breathing and could even lead to hyperventilation. Contrary to what most people think, hyperventilation doesn’t mean we don’t get enough oxygen but rather not enough carbon dioxide (CO2), which leads to constricted blood vessels and increased heart rate.
To counter all that, we need to learn to breathe deeply, filling our bodies with lots of oxygen and giving them enough time to produce carbon dioxide. There are lots of breathing techniques to try, ranging from beginner to master levels. So here’s a simple progression of the best breathing exercises for anxiety you can experiment with in the comfort of your own home.
Simple deep breathing
If you’re new to conscious deep breathing, start small. Even 1 minute breathing exercises are more than enough to feel your body calming down.
Here’s a simple technique you can try right now:
1) Sit comfortably, with your back relatively straight
2) Close your eyes and notice the pattern of your breath
3) Try to slowly deepen every inhale and ever exhale evenly
4) Repeat for around three cycles and return your breath to normal
5) Start over if you feel the need for more breathing exercises to calm down
The beauty of simple and relaxing breathing exercises such as this one is that you can do them anywhere, anytime of the day, whether you feel anxious, stressed or just want to be more mindful of what’s going on around you.
Doubling your exhale
A step up from simple deep breathing is working on doubling your exhale. This technique is a strong remedy against hyperventilation as it prevents your body from shallow breathing.
To double your exhale:
1) Again, sit comfortably and close your eyes
2) Start counting the length of every inhale and exhale
3) Deepen your inhale to at least four counts
4) Deepen your exhale to at least eight counts
5) Repeat this double exhale cycle at least five times
Doubling your exhale is a great example of 1 minute breathing exercises to calm down. Your actual count doesn’t have to be four and eight. It could be three and six or five and 10. The most important thing is to keep the pattern of exhaling for twice as long.
As this technique has a serious calming effect, it’s nice to do before you go to bed or when you can’t fall asleep.
Holding your breath
If you think about it, our breath isn’t just made up of inhales and exhales. There are also pauses in between — and we can work with them as well to make our breathing even more calming and nourishing.
After you feel comfortable doubling your breath, let’s say, inhaling for four and exhaling for eight, you can try to fit a pause right in the middle. Try a count of seven to start with, so:
1) Inhale for four
2) Hold for seven
3) Exhale for eight
4) Repeat a few times
Feel free to experiment with the numbers as well, but always try to keep your exhale longer than your inhale.
For the next step, you can add another pause — after your exhale:
1) Inhale for four
2) Hold for four
3) Exhale for four
4) Hold for four
5) Repeat a few times
Again, feel free to adjust the pattern as needed. Another popular count is to exhale for longer, so inhaling for four, holding for four, exhaling for six and holding for two.
Experimenting with pranayama
Once you feel comfortable controlling your breath on the count, you can dive deeper into the world of yogic breathing — pranayama. While the practice of pranayama has been around for thousands of years and is quite diverse, simply dissecting one of the breathing exercises to reduce anxiety would be enough for us to start:
1) Sit comfortably
2) On your right hand, fold in your index and middle fingers and bring your pinky finger and ring finger together
3) Bring your right thumb to your right nostril and the pinky and ring fingers to your left nostril. The tips of your fingers should fit into the grooves on your nose.
4) Put a little pressure on your nostrils. It might feel uncomfortable at the beginning. Release.
5) Inhale freely for a count of five
6) Put some pressure on your nostrils and exhale for 10
7) Repeat the cycle a few times
This specific practice of restricted breathing is called Anuloma pranayama and is considered to be part of the Hatha yoga tradition. It’s one of the more advanced techniques listed here and is often done as a preparation for meditation.
Finding mindfulness in meditation
Practice any deep breathing exercises for long enough and you’ll find that what you eventually come to is some sort of a meditative state, so it’s worth mentioning here too.
As you probably know, meditation is becoming more and more popular every day. And for a good reason. Meditating helps regulate breath, reduce anxiety, calm down the body and clear our thoughts.
But it all starts with breathing. Try going through a few cycles of the best breathing exercises for anxiety offered above before relaxing and simply noticing your breath going in and out. Continue just for about two minutes in the beginning and you’ll already see the results. Eventually increase your meditation to five, 10 or even 20 minutes.
If you find it hard to sit still, you can try one of many guided meditations. Apps like Headspace and Calm offer all kinds of guided practices designed specifically for beginners.
So try all the deep breathing exercises listed above, maybe even dip your toes into a quick meditation once in a while, and you’ll discover your inner Zen monk in no time!
Note: No techniques or practices mentioned in this article constitute medical advice. Consult your physician for any contraindications before commencing any breathing exercises.