• April 25, 2022 3 min read

    Sometimes you just need a breather. But when you’re feeling anxious, that’s hard to do.

    Anxiety is something that we all experience periodically, but it’s also the most common mental illness in America. One in five people struggle with an anxiety disorder that affects their daily lives.

    Whether you’re temporarily overwhelmed and feeling anxious, or regularly struggle with feelings of anxiety, incorporating a breathing exercise can help you find relief.

    How Breathing Helps Relieve Anxiety

    When we experience anxiety, our body feels threatened and prepares itself to handle the threat at hand. Naturally, we shorten our breath to breathe quick, shallow breaths through our mouth. This helps flood our body with oxygen so that it’s ready for action.

    However, if we don’t have a physical threat to fight off, this response creates an imbalance of oxygen in our system and can cause a variety of unwelcome effects like increasing our heart rate, causing us to hyperventilate, and making it even harder to breathe.

    When we use breathing exercises in response to anxiety, we consciously cue our body to let it know we are not in danger. This helps bring us back to our baseline, resume a full oxygen exchange in our body, and stabilize our vitals.

    Simple Breathing Exercises for Anxiety

    Box Breathing (Square Breathing)

    Box breathing is great for slowing down your body’s response in moments of stress.

    1. Inhale through your nose for a count of four seconds
    2. Hold your breath for four seconds
    3. Exhale for four seconds
    4. Repeat the pattern

    By following this repetitious and steady breathing pattern, you calm your autonomic nervous system and allow the carbon dioxide levels in your blood to increase which lowers your heart rate for deeper relaxation.

    Diaphragmatic Breathing (Belly Breathing)

    Your diaphragm is an essential organ that allows you to pull air into your lungs. With proper breathing, our belly should expand and deflate with every breath. But we often forget to breathe this way, and instead breathe using our chest and shoulder muscles which increases tension, stress and anxiety.

    This diaphragmatic breathing exercise helps us recenter ourselves when anxiety starts to take hold. It can be done sitting up or lying down.

    1. Place one hand on your belly
    2. Inhale through your nose, focusing on feeling your diaphragm expand and letting your neck and shoulders relax
    3. Pause for a moment when your diaphragm is most full
    4. Exhale in a controlled manner, feeling you diaphragm slowly deflate

    Diaphragmatic breathing is a natural trigger for our body’s relaxation response and has been shown to lower cortisol levels. By breathing slowly, you lower your respiration rate and stimulate the vagus nerve which in turn, lowers your heart rate and induces a state of relaxation.

    Lion’s Breath

    If you’ve ever done a yoga class, you might be familiar with Lion’s Breath, or simhasana. This is a deep breathing exercise that helps you release tension in your face and jaw, while also removing you from your anxious experience and your own self-consciousness.

    1. Sit tall in a chair or on the floor
    2. Take a deep breath in through your nose
    3. Open your mouth and stick out your tongue, stretching it out and down toward your chin
    4. Exhale slowly, pushing the air out of your stomach with force making a “ha” sound
    5. Once you’ve exhaled completely, breathe normally for a few moments, then repeat up to seven times

    Lion’s breath is especially helpful if you feel anxious around speaking and communicating. This breathing technique is linked to the fifth chakra, which is the seat of creativity, communication, and expression. The exercise also helps warm and relax your vocal cords and can be a great tool to help you feel confident and relaxed in using your voice.

    A Practice of Breathing

    Establishing a breathing practice can preemptively fight feelings of anxiety by releasing tension and stress before it builds or accumulates. You can incorporate any of these exercises into your daily routine to reduce your anxiety and help you lead a more centered and balanced life.