Breathing Exercises for Anxiety

Help Calm Anxiety and Promote Relaxation

Breathing exercises for anxiety are very important. They will help you learn to calm your anxiety and promote relaxation in the body and mind. By mastering breathing exercises for anxiety we can limit the effect stress and anxiety will have on our mind and body. When stressed or anxious our breathing automatically becomes irregular. Many times people are not aware that their breathing patterns can create symptoms within the body that are frightening and this causes more anxiety in the end simply because what the person is feeling is not understood. Another word for over-breathing is hyperventilation.

Hyperventilation does not increase the amount of oxygen in the blood, instead it reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood. It is the reduced amount of carbon dioxide in the blood that causes the most uncomfortable symptoms in panic attacks. Many people think they are not getting enough oxygen but instead they are getting too much caused by their breathing patterns.

Some symptoms of hyperventilation include, but are not limited to:

  • feelings of breathlessness
  • lightheaded or dizziness
  • unreal feelings, depersonalization
  • confusion
  • muscle tension
  • increased heart rate
  • tingling in hand and/or feet
  • sweating
  • nausea
  • increased feelings of fear, panic

  • Although the symptoms of over-breathing (hyperventilation) are physically distressing, they are NOT dangerous. However, when we interpret the symptoms as dangerous, it only increases our fear that something more serious is wrong, causing the person suffering to hyperventilate more and this only prolongs their symptoms and makes them more intense. It is important to recognize that whether we think about it or not, our bodies breathe - we can actually control our breathing pattern when we recognize the symptoms of hyperventilation in our own bodies. Some people have developed a bad habit of over-breathing, they do it naturally without thinking about it. However, this bad habit can be changed and corrected through proper breathing techniques. So, whether or not hyperventilation is a result of an anxiety/stress response or a bad habit it can be changed therefore reducing the uncomfortable symptoms a person feels with over-breathing.

    Many of the same breathing exercises for anxiety and panic attacks can also work for depression. People that are unable to function normally in daily activities because of bad breathing habits are advised to seek help from a qualified psychologist if home self-help methods do not help them. Any anytime you can obtain a list of qualifying providers through your primary care physician.

    The Benefits of Breathing Exercises for Anxiety

    Healthy breathing patterns are not only helpful for inducing relaxation and helping to limit the physical sensations associated with anxiety and panic attacks, but they have many other benefits as well. Breathing exercises are well-known for these common, positive benefits:

  • A More Relaxed Body and Mind
  • Lowers Heart Rate, Slows Breathing
  • Better Sleep, Less Issues with Insomnia
  • Better Memory and Focus
  • Increased Energy
  • Improved Emotional Stamina and Resilience
  • Speeds Up Metabolism
  • Burns Calories and Fat (see the bottom of this page!)
  • Controls Food Cravings
  • Eliminates Toxins in the Body
  • Helps Lower Blood Pressure
  • Improves Immune Function
  • Distracts You From Automatic Negative Thoughts

  • Tips For Using Breathing Exercises for Anxiety

    Before you get started using these free breathing exercises, please read through these tips. They will help you as you explore and find what breathing exercises for anxiety are best for you.

    1. If you have a medical condition or if you are on medication, please consult your doctor before using any of the free breathing exercises.

    2. Practice in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed when practicing. This will help you focus on learning the breathing method so you will be more able to remember it.

    3. Healthy breathing begins with the belly. Place your hands on your stomach to make sure you are breathing correctly. Your stomach should be moving during all exercises.

    4. Choose a breathing technique that you are comfortable with. It helps to master some of the simple ones so that you can remember to use it in public if you should become anxious or panicky. A simple method will be easier to remember.

    5. Remember, practicing these free breathing exercises at home will enable you to be more effective when you are anywhere and you are feeling stressed.

    Types of Breathing Exercises for Anxiety

    There are all different kinds of breathing exercises. The ones below can be used at the first sign of stress, anxiety and panic, as they are quite effective. Breathing exercises are a great way to help manage unwanted emotions too. These breathing exercises can be added to your normal relaxation routine, such as progressive muscle relaxation, isometric exercises, and meditations. Increase your mental focus and your relaxation experience by adding relaxing music or sounds to your breathing exercises. But if you prefer no music at all, then your positive self-talk is all you need! For more information on self talk, please visit How to Talk to Yourself for some great tips.

    A Simple 2-4 Breathing Exercise for Anxiety

  • Find a place where you can sit down comfortably.
  • Focus all your attention on your breathing and notice your pattern.
  • Breathe in slowly for 2 seconds.
  • Breathe out slowly for 4 seconds.
  • Repeat to yourself "relax".
  • Continue until symptoms of over-breathing disappear

  • Of course, there are many other types of breathing exercises for anxiety that also work just as well. It really is about preference. The 2-4 exercise listed above is quite basic and easy to remember. REMEMBER 2-4!

    Diaphragmatic Breathing, also known as Deep Breathing

    Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as deep breathing and stomach breathing, is a natural breathing technique that we are all born doing once we enter this world. However, prolonged stress and anxiety cause people to breathe from their chests, this is known as shallow breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing involves the full use of the diaphragm. Your diaphragm is located right under the ribs and above the stomach. The act of breathing should push the diaphragm down. This causes the stomach to naturally expand. If you stomach is not expanding when you breathe and you are noticing more chest movement, then these diaphragmatic breathing exercises will help you. It is important to recognize that with this type of breathing exercise, there is little to no chest movement at all. By practicing diaphragmatic breathing, you will strengthen the diaphragm and promote a relaxed body and mind. You will also be restoring natural breathing to your body.

  • Lie comfortably flat on a bed or floor mat.

  • Support your head and neck with a comfortable pillow. Support your knees by placing a support under them as well. You can use a small pillow or a rolled up towel.

  • Place one hand on your abdomen, right below your ribs, and the other hand on your chest. This is to ensure that you are breathing from the right place. Your focus for this breathing technique will be on your abdomen.

  • Breathe deeply in through your nose so that your stomach is pushing up against your hand.

  • As you exhale, breathe out through your mouth while you tighten your abdominal muscles so that you feel like you are pulling your belly button into your back.

  • Repeat this method for approx. 10-20 minutes, a few times each day.

  • Diaphragmatic exercises can be done while sitting up only after you have practiced enough to understand how to do it properly. This exercise can be done by itself or in conjunction with your relaxation exercises, such as Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Isometric Exercises and Visualization Exercises.

    This technique, when practiced regularly, will help create the automatic breathing response that is needed during stressful events and situations. It is useful in promoting a calm mind and body. When you become used to this technique and feel you have mastered it, you can pretty much do it anywhere, at anytime. Many people use this method while at work sitting at their desk. Remember, deep breathing is mindful breathing. Be sure to focus on your breathing when you are doing it. Imagine yourself breathing out all the stress inside of you when you exhale and then imagine yourself breathing in peace and calm upon taking new breaths. A little visualization goes a long way!

    This is a really great video presentation explaining the deep breathing technique. It explains exactly what the mind and body go through as a result of improper breathing. This video may take a few minutes to load - be patient, it's worth watching!

    Breathing Exercises for Insomnia

    Breathing exercises are also effective for relieving insomnia and promoting a good night sleep. If you find yourself struggling with insomnia, or even just having a hard time falling off to sleep try 4-4-4 Breathing. This simple breathing exercise helps to increase melatonin production, induces relaxation and helps you fall asleep faster. Next time you lay down for sleep, try these steps:

  • Inhale through your nose slowly for four seconds, you should feel your stomach rising as you inhale.
  • Hold your breath for four seconds, while counting quietly to yourself.
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth for four seconds, you should feel your stomach lowering as you exhale.
  • Repeat this exercise until you fall asleep.
  • What About Breathing Exercises for Weight Loss?

    That's right! Believe it or not, proper breathing helps to increase your metabolism, burn fat and helps to lower cortisol. What is cortisol? Cortisol is a chemical in the body that is released when the body experiences stress, anxiety, fight or flight or panic. This chemical tells our bodies to store sugars as fat. Most people are shallow breathers, they are also known as "chest breathers". This limits oxygen and creates poor ventilation in the body. Metabolized fat leaves the body through carbon dioxide by exhaling, unless of course you are breathing incorrectly. Our breathing helps to release fat and toxins from the body, but being chronically stressed makes weight loss very difficult and can even lead to obesity.

    Alternate Nostril Breathing to Lose Weight

    This type of breathing came from Yogic Breathing called Pranayama. It has been used for thousands and thousands of years and is still used today. Using this breathing technique 2-3 times per day will begin to send the right signal to the body so the body will stop storing sugar as fat and begin to use it for energy.

  • With thumb and index finger, place your thumb against one side of your nose to close it, leaving the other side open. Exhale gently out of your nostril then take a deep breath in, filling your belly. Then switch nostrils and then gently let the air out of the other nostril and then, again gently breath in. Repeat this inhale-exhale routine method about 10 times, about 2-3 times per day.

  • Abdominal Breathing to Lose Weight

    This type of breathing also came from the Yogic Breathing Science called Pranayama and is helpful for losing weight as well as reducing stress and eliminating toxins in the body.

  • To start this exercise, sit in a relaxed position, begin by taking a deep breath in and then out of the nose. Place your hands on your abdominal muscles and then quickly express air out of your nostrils while pulling your belly button in towards your back. These are quick, short breaths. Repeat this method for 1-3 minutes a couple times per day. It is important to keep your mouth closed during this exercise.

  • Remember, consult your family doctor before doing any of these free breathing exercises to lose weight.

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