8 Techniques to Reduce Anxiety & Stress
When you suffer from anxiety, it can cause you to feel breathless at times. In order to help alleviate some of these symptoms, there are some breathing techniques that can help you to start feeling better.
Whether you’re suffering from a panic attack, you’re feeling more anxious than normal while hanging out with friends, or you feel like your sleep anxiety is winning the battle, these breathing and relaxation techniques can be done at any point and can even be built into long deep breathing exercises for anxiety.
Below, we delve into some of the best breathing exercises for anxiety that we find is easy to do at any point in the day.
Lengthen Your Exhale
Deep breathing exercises for anxiety may not always help to calm you down. Taking in a deep breath is actually linked to the sympathetic nervous system - the command centre of your fight-or-flight response. In contrast, exhaling is linked to the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the main influence of your body’s ability to calm down and relax.
When undertaking deep breathing exercises for anxiety too quickly, it can actually cause you to hyperventilate which will, in turn, decrease the level of oxygen-rich blood that flows to your brain.
We understand that it is an easy mistake to make in the heat of the moment, especially under moments of stress and anxiety, but in order to prevent hyperventilating and actually reduce stress and your levels of anxiety, try a breathing technique that can be done in any comfortable position.
Below, we describe one of our breathing exercises for anxiety that can be done sitting, standing, or even lying down:
- Before you begin to take a deep breath, try a thorough exhale instead. In order to do this, push all of the air out of your lungs and, when you simply cannot exhale any further, let your lungs do their work to inhale air themselves. Do not hold your breath.
- After this, try spending more time on exhaling than inhaling. For example, try inhaling for three seconds, and then exhale for five.
- Try doing this for any length of time between two to five minutes, and see if it works for you in reducing your levels of anxiety at that time.
By controlling your breathing exercises for anxiety from your diaphragm, the muscle which sits just under your lungs, this can work in reducing the amount of work your body needs to undertake in order to actually breathe.
If you don’t know how to breathe from your diaphragm, follow these steps:
- We recommend lying down on the floor or on your bed with pillows supporting your head and knees in order to remain comfortable during this exercise. Alternatively, you can sit in a comfy chair with your knees bent, making sure to relax your head, neck, and shoulders.
- In your chosen position, put one hand under your rib cage and one hand over your heart.
- Then, inhale and exhale through your nose. Pay close attention to how, or if, your stomach and upper chest move in and out as you breathe.
- If you can, try isolating your breathing so that you bring air deeper into your lungs. If you can do that successfully, try the reverse and breathe so that your upper chest and rib cage move more than your stomach.
Over time, this breathing technique is designed to have your stomach move more as you breathe; not your chest. Belly breathing is one of the easy breathing exercises for anxiety that can be done daily. In order to practice belly breathing, follow these steps:
- Just as described above, sit or lie down in a comfortable position - making sure to provide support to the areas mentioned.
- Place one hand on your chest and another just above your belly button.
- Begin by breathing in through your nose, and notice how your stomach rises. Your chest should remain relatively still.
- Purse your pips and exhale through your mouth. If you can, try engaging your stomach muscles to push the remaining air out at the end of the breath. Then, repeat by following steps 3-4.
For these kinds of breathing exercises for anxiety to become an automatic response, you’ll need to practice it three or four times a day for up to 10 minutes at a time. You may feel tired at first if you’ve never used your diaphragm to breathe before, but this will become an easier method over time.
Slow, focussed, deep breathing exercises for anxiety can help to reduce anxiety. Breath focus breathing exercises for sleep anxiety can be done in a quiet and comfortable location either sitting or lying down.
- Notice the sensations through your body when you inhale and exhale normally. Mentally scan your body and notice any tension within your body that you’ve not noticed before.
- Take a slow, deep, breath through your nose.
- Notice your belly and chest expanding.
- Exhale in a comfortable way, either through your nose or mouth; even sighing if you need.
- Do this for several minutes, making sure to focus on the rise and fall of your belly.
- Once comfortable, think of a word to focus on and vocalise during the exhale of this exercise. It can be something like “safe”, “calm”, or “peace” to use as a calming mantra.
- Imagine your inhale washing over your body like a gentle wave of calm.
- Imagine your exhale carrying any negative and upsetting thoughts away from you - like sand being washed away by the sea.
- If you get distracted, try to gently bring your attention back to your breathing and to your words.
Daily practice of breath focus for up to 20 minutes can make this one of the best breathing exercises for anxiety.
The ancient practice of Pranayama yoga also features breathing exercises for anxiety. Equal breathing is a breathing technique that entails the inhaling of air for the same period of time as you exhale.
Similarly to abdomen breathing, make sure to sit or lay down in a comfortable position. To begin:
- Close your eyes, and pay attention to the way you normally breathe for several breaths at the beginning.
- Now, slowing your breathing, count to 4 as you inhale through your nose.
- Make sure to exhale at the same rate you breathed in for the same four-second count.
- As you breathe in and out, pay attention to how full and empty your lungs feel at the end of each breath respectively.
As you continue these breathing exercises for anxiety and depression, you may notice that your counting of seconds can vary. In these instances, make sure to keep your inhale and exhale the same in order to not feel breathless.
Also known as coherent breathing, resonant breathing exercises for anxiety and depression can help you calm down into a relaxed state of mind and body. To try this, begin by:
- Lying down, and closing your eyes.
- Now, gently breathe in through your nose with your mouth closed for six seconds.
- Make sure your lungs are not too full of air.
- Exhale for six seconds and allow your breath to leave your body slowly and gently. This is a gentle process, so do not force it.
- Continue this breathing technique for up to 10 minutes.
- After finishing this exercise, take a few additional minutes of mindfulness. Be still, and focus on how your body feels.
Yoga is a wellness practise with ancient roots, and breathing is a core exercise at the heart of every variation of yoga that has since been developed since ancient times.
Pranayama is one such form of yoga, and this variation includes multiple breathing techniques that can help to alleviate symptoms of anxiety. Some of these breathing exercises for anxiety include the lengthened exhale and equal breathing, similar in style to those featured above, as well as the following lion’s breath technique - which involves forceful exhalation.
To try this technique, attempt the following:
- Get into a kneeling position, making sure to cross your ankles and rest your bottom on your feet. If you find this position to be uncomfortable, sitting cross-legged is also fine.
- Bring your hands to your knees and stretch out your arms and fingers.
- Take a breath in through your nose.
- Exhale through your mouth, and vocalise an extended “ha” sound.
- During your exhale, open your mouth as wide as possible and stick out your tongue, trying to extend it down to your chin as far as it will go.
- While exhaling, focus on the middle of your forehead, or your third eye. Alternatively, focus on the end of your nose.
- Relax your face as you inhale again.
- Repeat this exercise up to six times, alternating the cross of your ankles as you reach the halfway point.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
In order to try alternate nostril breathing, we recommend sitting down in a comfortable place. When sitting, make sure to lengthen your spine and open up your chest.
To prepare to begin the exercise, rest your left hand in your lap and raise your right hand. Then, rest the pointer and middle fingers of your right hand on your forehead and in-between your eyebrows.
Close your eyes, and inhale and exhale through your nose.
- Use your right thumb to close the right-hand nostril and inhale slowly through your left nostril.
- Pinch your nose closed between your right thumb and ring finger, making sure to hold your breath for a moment.
- Using your right ring finger, close your left nostril and exhale through your right. Make sure to take a moment before inhaling again.
- Inhale slowly through your right nostril.
- Pinch your nose closed again, remembering to pause your breath for a moment.
- Now, open the left nostril and exhale and pause again before breathing.
- Repeat this cycle of breathing in and out, and pausing, through either nostril up to a total of 10 times. Each cycle should take you a maximum of 40 seconds to complete.
It has proven beneficial for some people to use guided meditation to alleviate anxiety as a way to interrupt patterns of thinking that cause stress, anxiety, or depression.
Guided meditation is best practised by sitting or lying in a cool, dark, comfortable place and relaxing your body. Then, by listening to calming recordings of the ocean, rain, or a forest, you can relax and steady your breathing.
You can also listen to guided meditation recordings which are available on certain streaming services in order to help take you through the steps of visualising a calm, less stressful, reality. This technique can also help you to gain control over your intrusive thoughts that trigger symptoms of anxiety.
What You Should Know About Breathing Exercises for Anxiety
If you’re experiencing anxiety or panic attacks, we recommend trying a breathing exercise for anxiety attacks as mentioned above in order to see if they can help you get a better hold of your symptoms.
If you find that, even with breathing exercises for anxiety, your symptoms persist or even get worse, we recommend making an appointment with your GP in order to discuss your symptoms and possible treatments. With the right approach to anxiety, you can regain a hold over your symptoms of anxiety and depression and attain a better quality of life.