breathing exercises for anxiety

Feeling Overwhelmed? Try These Five Breathing Exercises for Anxiety

by Pat Fontana

We are living in stressful times. It is natural to feel anxious when faced with today’s challenges and uncertainty. In fact, anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress. When you start to feel overwhelmed, though, you can try these five breathing exercises for anxiety.

Coping with Anxiety

Anxiety can be useful because it makes sure that people are alert and aware in the face of danger. For some people, however, it can disrupt their everyday life. Sometimes, anxiety can become overwhelming, which may cause unease, distress, or dread. Experts often recommend breathing exercises as a way to cope with anxiety. Such exercises help people slow their heart rate and feel calm.

Breathing and Anxiety

Breathing can actually contribute to anxiety. Improper breathing can upset the oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange and contribute to anxiety, panic attacks, fatigue, and other physical and emotional disturbances. Most people aren’t really conscious of the way they’re breathing, but generally, there are two types of breathing patterns: diaphragmatic (abdominal) breathing and thoracic (chest) breathing.

When people are anxious, they tend to take rapid, shallow breaths that come directly from the chest. This type of breathing is called thoracic or chest breathing. When you’re feeling anxious, you may not even be aware you’re breathing this way.

Chest breathing causes an upset in the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the body, resulting in increased heart rate, dizziness, muscle tension, and other physical sensations. Your blood is not being properly oxygenated and this may signal a stress response that contributes to anxiety and panic attacks.

When you feel overwhelmed, try one of these techniques for breathing exercises for anxiety.

Deep Breathing

Deep breathing is simple but effective. You can do it anywhere, while sitting, standing up, or lying down. To deep breathe:

  • Relax the tummy.
  • Place one hand just beneath the ribs.
  • Breathe in slowly and deeply through the nose, noticing the hand rise.
  • Breathe out through the mouth, noticing the hand fall.

Quieting Response

The quieting response method combines deep breathing with visualization to help reduce stress and anxiety. You should first relax all the muscles in your face and shoulders and imagine having holes in the soles of your feet. Then:

  • Take a deep breath, visualizing the breath as hot air entering the body through the holes in the soles of the feet.
  • Imagine the hot air flowing up the legs, through the tummy, and then filling the lungs.
  • Relax each muscle as the hot air passes it.
  • Breathe out slowly, imagining the air passing from the lungs back into the tummy, then the legs, before leaving the body through the holes in the soles of the feet.
  • Repeat until calm.

Mindful Breathing

Mindful breathing uses mindfulness to help you focus on the here and now. To practice mindful breathing, sit or lie in a comfortable position with your eyes open or closed. Then:

  • Inhale through the nose until the tummy expands.
  • Slowly let the breath out through the mouth.
  • Once settled into the pattern, focus on the breath coming in through the nose and out through the mouth.
  • Notice the rise and fall of the tummy as the breaths come in and out.
  • As thoughts come into the head, notice that they are there without judgment, then let them go and bring the attention back to the breathing.
  • Carry on until feeling calm, then start to be aware of how the body and mind feel.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Doctors usually recommend diaphragmatic breathing to people with a lung condition called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; however, a recent study found that it can also help reduce anxiety. Start by either sitting up or lying down. Then:

  • Place one hand on the tummy and the other on the upper chest.
  • Breathe in through the nose, focusing on the tummy rising.
  • Breathe out through pursed lips, focusing on the tummy lowering.
  • Repeat the cycle.

4-7-8 Breathing

This technique is a quick and simple way for you to relax anywhere. Sit down with your back straight and the tip of your tongue on the back of your upper front teeth. Then:

  • Breathe out through the mouth, making a whooshing sound.
  • Close the mouth and count to 4 while breathing in through the nose.
  • Count to 7 while holding the breath.
  • Count to 8 while breathing out through the mouth, making a whooshing sound.
  • Inhale, then repeat three times.

Contact South Miami Recovery for Help with Your Anxiety

At South Miami Recovery, we offer you evidence-based therapies to help with your stress and anxiety, including mindfulness therapy. We know that your well-being is of the utmost importance during the COVID-19 pandemic. South Miami Recovery offers HIPAA-compliant telehealth services so you can get the treatment you need now. Contact us today for help. Call South Miami Recovery at 305.661.0055.