The world is full of stressors that can’t always be avoided, but you can find ways to manage your emotions and reduce anxiety. One effective technique is to focus on your breath, which you do constantly throughout the day. Breath control exercises have become popular during the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to cope with stress, and many people have discovered that they can be very helpful when feeling overwhelmed.
If you missed it, it’s worth noting that anxiety is a very common condition. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, it is the most common mental illness in the United States and affects nearly 40 million adults in the country every year, which is just over 18% of the population.
Breathing can affect your body in various ways that can help reduce anxiety and stress. According to Rachel L. Goldman, PhD, a clinical psychologist and clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, the way you breathe can influence your heart rate, blood pressure, and nervous system. These factors all contribute to your body’s stress and anxiety levels.
For example, shallow breathing typically involves drawing just a bit of air into your lungs, and taking shorter and faster breaths through your mouth (think: using only your upper chest to breathe). Engaging in this type of breathing can typically cause stress, panic, anxiety, tension, and pain, as it signals to your body that it’s in its “flight” response, Goldman explains.
You’re able to get more oxygen into your brain and reduce your blood pressure and heart rate. Plus, it signals to your body that you can relax, that you’re safe, which is what makes it great for relieving anxiety, says Goldman.
What are the benefits of using breathing exercises to alleviate anxiety?
To effectively reduce stress and prevent anxiety, it is important to regularly practice breathing exercises, advises Goldman. These exercises can help lower overall stress and anxiety levels, and are most effective when incorporated into a regular routine, rather than being used only in times of high anxiety.
Goldman suggests practicing a few times daily, such as in the morning and before bed, and taking as many breaths as necessary to feel calmer. He estimates that this typically takes about three to four breaths.
Once you feel confident in your ability to do these exercises, you can start to implement them specifically during stressful times, Goldman says. Ultimately, taking these deep breaths is the fastest way to get to a physiologically zen state.
10. Breathing Exercises to Relieve Anxiety
Box breathing, also known as four-square breathing, is a simple technique that can help you relax and focus. To do this exercise, start by inhaling for a count of four seconds. Then hold your breath for a count of four seconds. Exhale for a count of four seconds. If you like, you can visualize building and breaking down a one-dimensional square as you go. This can help engage both your mind and body, making it a great way to distract yourself from stress and slow down your body.
To practice this breathing exercise, find a comfortable seated position. Begin by exhaling fully through your mouth. Next, inhale through your nose for a count of four seconds. Hold your breath for seven seconds. Finally, exhale slowly through your mouth for eight seconds. This exercise may be more challenging to remember at first, but it can be helpful in relaxing the nervous system and managing stress. Remember, during this exercise, you should exhale and focus on your breath for twice as long as you inhale.
3. Triangle Breathing
To practice triangle breathing, simply find a comfortable seated position and focus on your breath. Begin by inhaling through your nose for a count of three, then holding your breath for a count of three. Exhale through your mouth for another count of three. Some people find it helpful to visualize a triangle while doing this exercise, with each side representing one of the three counts. This technique, recommended by Women’s Health adviser Chloe Carmichael, PhD, is a simple and effective way to calm the mind and bring a sense of relaxation.
4.”Breathing using the diaphragm”
To practice deep breathing, begin by placing one hand on your chest and the other hand on your diaphragm. You can also do this without using your hands. Take a deep breath in through your nose, making sure to allow your belly to expand as you inhale. Hold this breath for a moment before exhaling slowly through your mouth.
To practice deep, controlled breathing:
- Find a comfortable seated position.
- Inhale through your nostrils for four seconds.
- Pause for a moment.
- Exhale through your nostrils for four seconds.
Breathing through your nostrils can help you focus on your breath and control it more effectively. This can be particularly helpful if you’re feeling anxious or panicked, as it allows you to shift your focus to a different task and slow down your breathing.
If your temp rises when you get anxious, you might want to consider a breathing technique that can bring it back down. Straw breathing is one of those practices, Carmichael explains, as it brings about a cooling sensation through the mouth.
- Contort your mouth into a tight “O,” as if you’re blowing a kiss. Optional: Grab an actual straw to breathe through.
- Inhale through the straw or “O” shape.
- Pause for a beat.
- Exhale through the straw or “O” shape.
If you’re having trouble using the traditional breathing exercises to re-center yourself, sometimes it can be helpful to add some words to drive the point of relaxation home and draw your attention to the breath, says Goldman.
- Say the words “breathe in” to yourself (Or another mantra you want to repeat).
- Breathe in through your nose.
- Pause for a moment.
- Say the words “breathe out” to yourself.
- Breathe out through your mouth.
8.Breath of Fire
Feeling tired but needing to continue going about your day can often be a source of stress and anxiety, and this invigorating technique can recharge your battery enough to last through the day.
To perform this exercise:
- Inhale rapidly through your nose.
- Hold in your stomach and contract your abdominal muscles by pulling your navel towards your spine.
- Exhale quickly through your nose while keeping your stomach tight.
- Repeat this rapid breathing in and out 15-20 times, or until you run out of breath.
- Take a brief break and then repeat the exercise up to five times.
9. Finger Breathing
To do this exercise, find a comfortable seated position and place your left hand, palm up, on your lap. As you inhale, use your right hand to trace a path from the base of your thumb to the tip. On the exhale, trace your thumb in a downward motion. Continue tracing through all five fingers or until you feel a sense of calm. This exercise is recommended for anyone who has difficulty being present and finds it hard to quiet their thoughts. It involves all of your senses and can be a more immersive experience than some other practices that focus mainly on breath control.
- Pause for a moment.
- Exhale, closing your eyes.
- As you exhale, imagine that you are wrapping yourself in a cocoon, creating a sense of privacy, boundaries, and deep exhalation.
- Repeat this process as many times as needed, and with each exhale, visualize yourself being enveloped by the cocoon even more.
This technique is helpful for when you need a moment to yourself to regroup and find relaxation.