Anxiety is a part of the body’s natural response to stress. The “fight-or-flight” instinct kicks in during any real or perceived physical or mental threat.
A frequent symptom of increased anxiety is breathlessness. This happens when we begin breathing too quickly, which is called hyperventilating. Hyperventilation decreases the amount of oxygen-rich blood that flows to your brain. Learning a handful of different breathing techniques may be a helpful way to help you manage your anxiety.
One way to regulate your breathing during periods of anxiety is to focus on lengthening your exhales. While one first response to anxious breathing may be to take in a deep inhale, it is actually the exhale linked to the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps our body regulate itself and calm down.
To practice the long exhale, push all the air out of your lungs before taking a natural breath. Then, extend your exhale longer than your inhale. Try counting to 4 while inhaling, then to 6 while exhaling. Do this for a few minutes, in any position that is comfortable for you.
4-7-8 Breathing TechniqueSimilar to the long exhale, the 4-7-8 technique can be a helpful way to calm your breathing while focusing on both the inhale and the exhale. Follow these steps:
- Exhale fully through your mouth, pushing all the air out of your lungs and making an audible whooshing noise.
- Count to 4 while breathing in through your nose.
- Count to 7 while holding your breath.
- Count to 8 while exhaling fully through your mouth, making a whooshing noise.
- Inhale, and repeat.
You can repeat these steps until you begin to feel calmer.
To practice diaphragmatic breathing:
- Make sure you are in a comfortable position to start. Your head, neck, and shoulders should start from a relaxed state.
- Start by putting one hand on the middle of your upper chest. Place your other hand beneath your rib cage and below your diaphragm (on the belly). Breathe in through your nose, drawing the breath down toward your stomach. The hand on your belly will rise as you let in air deeply. The hand on the chest will not move much but the hand on the belly should rise. This means you are using your diaphragm for that breath.
- As you exhale, your abdominal muscles will fall inward, tightening in the process. Now your hand on your belly will return to where it started.
- Repeat this exercise 5 times when feeling anxious.
This meditative technique can help you to focus both your breath and your mind.
- Close your eyes.
- Take two or three deep, full breaths.
- As you inhale, imagine that the air around you is filled with calmness. Imagine this sense of calm filling your body with your breath.
- As you exhale, imagine any stress and tension physically leaving your body.
- Choose a word or phrase while you breathe in, like “I am breathing in calmness and letting go of tension.”
- As you breathe out, say your phrase in your mind.
- Continue for 10 minutes or until you feel calm.
Deep breathing can decrease stress and promote a sense of calm. Deep breathing offers people the ability to follow a different breathing rhythm, when desired.
To practice deep breathing:
- Find a place where you can get comfortable, such as on the bed or in a comfortable seat. Remember to relax your shoulders. Again place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest. Focus on only moving the hand that is on your abdomen. Try to keep your chest hand still.
- Breathe in through your nose to a count of three, filling your belly with air.
- Exhale through your nose to a count of three, allowing your belly to deflate, as if you are watching a balloon deflate. You can even say the word “calm” when exhaling.
- Repeat this technique 5 times, or until you feel calm.
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This blog is for educational purposes only; talk to your provider to understand recommendations specific to you.