8 Breathing Exercises to Relieve Anxiety

Jan 28, 2023 | Inhale l Exhale

8 Breathing Exercises to Relieve Anxiety

Having anxiety and panic attacks is uncomfortable. You feel like drowning and out of breath. Most of the time, your mind races, and breathing are typically more complicated than usual. When you get into this state, it is important to stay calm and remember these breathing exercises for your anxiety. 

Practice These Breathing Exercises

You can use these breathing techniques if you feel breathless during an anxiety attack. Practicing them daily helps in controlling your anxieties. 

1. Breathe to lengthen your exhale

Inhaling alone may not always calm your nerves. And inhaling deep breaths are helpful to the sympathetic nervous system. This system is responsible for our fight-or-flight response. Exhaling, on the other hand, is linked to our parasympathetic nervous system. It influences the body’s ability to stay calm and relaxed. 

When you are experiencing anxiety, taking too many deep breaths too quickly will only lead to hyperventilation. And when you are hyperventilating, this decreases the amount of oxygen-rich blood flow into your brain. Anxiety causes us to feel under stress. It is why knowing how to lengthen your exhale helps in avoiding hyperventilation. But how do you do this? 

To lengthen your exhale, try to push out all the air in your lungs before taking a deep breath. Allow the lungs to do their work by inhaling air. Next, spend a little bit longer exhaling than inhaling. For example, inhale for 4-5 seconds, then exhale for 6. Repeat this for 2-5 minutes until your anxiety lowers down. You can do this in any position you’re comfortable with. 

2. Focused breathing

When deep breathing is focused, it helps relieve anxiety. How can you do focused breathing? Place yourself in a comfortable position (sitting or lying down). You must do the following:

  • Notice how you feel when you inhale and exhale normally. Scan your body mentally and notice any tension in your body that you’ve never felt before. 
  • Deep breath through your nose slowly. Notice how your belly and upper body expand. 
  • Exhale in the most comfortable way that you can. Sighing works at this point. 
  • Repeat this for several minutes as you pay attention to how your belly rises and falls. 
  • Choose a word to focus on as you vocalize your exhale. 
  • Picture this inhale as washing you like a gentle wave, and you’re exhaling as carrying the negative thoughts and energy away from you. 
  • When you get distracted, bring your attention back to your breathing and focus on words gently. 
  • Practice this breathing technique for 20 minutes every day whenever you can. 

3. Abdominal breathing

Abdominal or diaphragm breathing helps reduce the work you do to breathe correctly. You can do abdominal breathing by following these steps:

  • Lay down on the floor or bed with pillows under your knees and head. You can also sit on a chair with your head, neck, and shoulders relaxed and your knees bent. 
  • Put one hand under your rib cage. Place your other hand over your heart and inhale and exhale through your nose. Take note of how your chest and stomach move as you breathe. 
  • Can you isolate your breathing? It will help bring more air deeper into your lungs. Try reversing your breathing. Can you breathe in a way that your chest moves more than your stomach?

You will want your stomach to move as much as you breathe instead of your chest. You can also practice belly breathing by sitting or lying down. Place one hand on your chest and another on your stomach above your belly button. 

Breathe through your nose and notice the way your stomach rises. Make sure that your chest remains still. Purse your lips and exhale through your mouth. Engage your stomach muscles to push the air out at each end of the breath. 

For this breathing to be automatic, practicing it every day is the key. Doing this at least three times daily for up to 10 minutes can make a difference. Note that you will feel tired the first time you try diaphragm breathing. But as you continue to practice this, it eventually becomes more effortless. 

4. Alternate nostril breathing

To do alternate nostril breathing, you must sit down in a comfortable place. Lengthen your spine and open your chest as you do. Rest your left hand in your lap. Raise your right hand and then rest your right hand’s pointer and middle fingers on your forehead between your eyebrows. Close your eyes as you inhale and exhale through your nose. Repeating this process helps relieve anxiety.

  • Use your right thumb to close the right-hand nostril and slowly inhale through the left one. 
  • Pinch your nose close between your right ring finger and right thumb. Hold your breath in for a moment.      
  • Use the right ring finger to close your left nostril. Exhale through the right nostril and wait for a moment before inhaling again. As you inhale slowly, do this using your right nostril.         
  • Pinch your nose closed again and pause for a moment. 
  • Open the left side and exhale. Pause again for a moment before inhaling again.
  • Repeat this cycle of inhaling and exhaling on each nostril up to 10 times. Each cycle can last up to 40 seconds. 

5. Lion’s Breath

Another excellent breathing technique that can help your anxiety is the lion’s breath. How can you do this? 

  • First, get into a kneeling position and cross your ankles as you rest your bottom feet. If this is not comfortable, you can sit cross-legged too. 
  • Bring your hands to your knees and stretch out your arms and fingers. Take a deep breath through your nose. 
  • Breathe out your mouth, allowing yourself to vocalize “ha.” As you exhale, open your mouth as wide as you can as you stick your tongue out. Make sure to stretch it out toward your chin as far as possible. 
  • Focus your attention on the middle of your forehead (third eye) or the end of your nose while exhaling. 
  • As you inhale, relax your face. 
  • Repeat the same steps up to six times. And as you do, also change how you cross your ankles whenever you reach the halfway point. 

6. Resonant breathing

Also known as coherent breathing, resonant breathing can help calm your nerves and relieve anxiety as you get into a more relaxed state. To do this, you must follow these steps:

  • Lie down in a bed or on the floor and close your eyes.
  • Breathe gently through your nose with your mouth closed. Count 6 seconds. 
  • Remember not to fill your lungs with too much air. 
  • Exhale for 6 seconds and allow your breath to leave your body gently. Don’t force the air out of your lungs. 
  • Continue to do this for at least 10 minutes. 
  • Take extra minutes to be still and focus your mind on how your body feels after doing resonant breathing. 

7. Equal breathing

Another breathing technique that helps relieve anxiety is equal breathing. Equal breathing is an ancient pranayama yoga done by inhaling the same amount of time you are exhaling. To do equal breathing, find a place to sit or lay down. Make sure you’re comfortable and follow these steps:

  • Close your eyes and pay attention to the way you usually breathe. 
  • Slowly count from 1-2-3-4 as you inhale through your nose. 
  • Be mindful of the feelings of fullness and emptiness in your lungs as you inhale and exhale. 

How you count the seconds may vary each time you practice equal breathing, but keep your inhale and exhale the same. 

8. Guided meditation

Alleviating your anxiety is possible with the help of guided meditation. A guided meditation interrupts the patterns of thinking that trigger stress. To practice guided meditation, you can sit down or lie in a cool, dark, and comfortable place where you can relax. 

You can then listen to calming recordings as you relax and steady your breathing. These recordings will take you through visualizing a calmer and less stressed environment. It will also help you gain control over your negative thoughts and the ones that trigger your anxiety. 

Your takeaway

Stress and anxiety are inevitable. We face them daily, and they are part of our lives, but there are always ways to help ourselves and relieve anxiety. Knowing what triggers your anxiety helps you take control over how you feel, and by practicing these guided breathing daily, you, too, can rid yourself of too much anxiety and keep them at bay. Give them a try and see how it goes. You might enjoy doing them too!