When your “flight or fight” response kicks in, your body is preparing to either fight the oncoming danger or run. In the right situation, this response saves lives. But trouble can start when this response is activated by more day-to-day tasks like receiving a bad email or relationship problems. A build-up of stress can contribute to anxiety. One way to feel calmer and ease stress is through deep breathing for anxiety. It may sound too simplistic to say just take a deep breath, but there’s more to it than you may think.
What is Deep Breathing?
Deep breathing is a relaxation technique that can lower stress and anxiety. How you breathe affects your whole body. There are various ways to breathe deeply, but essentially it involves taking a big breath in through your nose and filling your lungs with air, and then releasing it. Deep breathing goes by a few names like:
What are the Benefits of Deep Breathing for Anxiety?
Deep breathing boosts the supply of oxygen to the brain and activates the parasympathetic nervous system. In turn, this promotes a sense of calmness. On the other hand, shallow breathing can limit the range of motion of your diaphragm. This can make you feel like you’re short of breath and anxious.
With big, deep breaths, you increase the exchange of oxygen, slowing the heart rate and helping you to disengage from unhelpful and anxious thoughts.
As you breathe slower and more deeply, you’re telling your nervous system to calm down. This isn’t an immediate response but something that takes time and practice. Longer and slower breaths offer several benefits, including:
This is a space with ongoing research, but studies show that deep breathing, even sighing, can effectively relieve both high and low sensitivity to anxiety. When you practice deep breathing techniques, it can make you feel more aware and connected to your mind and body, which helps you step away from your worries and calm the mind.
4 Deep Breathing Techniques to Reduce Anxiety and Ease Stress
While there are various deep breathing techniques, they all start with finding a quiet, comfortable place. You can be lying, sitting, or standing, whatever position is comfortable for you to begin deep breathing.
For alternate-nostril breathing, you alternate blocking each nostril. Start in a seated position. Close your eyes and cover your right nostril with your thumb and take a deep breath through your left nostril. Breathe out and close your left nostril with your ring finger. Inhale through the right nostril and repeat. Aim to do about ten rounds.
Lion’s breath involves sticking out your tongue and roaring like a lion. Although it may sound a little strange, it’s a useful technique to learn. It can help to relax the muscles and ease tension. Start in a seated position and bring your hands to your knees. Take a big breath in through the nose and breath out through the mouth with a vocal “ha.” As you exhale, stick out your tongue and open your mouth wide. Repeat five to six times.
A great place to start deep breathing is through belly breathing. You can sit or lie down and place one hand on the chest and the other on the stomach. Take a deep breath through the nose, purse the lips, and exhale through the mouth. Try to keep your stomach muscles engaged as you breathe out. Start with five to ten minutes of belly breathing and work your way up.
First, try doing this technique in a seated position. Then, once you are comfortable, you can start lying down. Also known as relaxing breath, the idea is that you breathe in for four seconds, hold for seven, and breathe out for eight seconds. It’s a helpful breathing pattern for reducing anxiety and helping you to sleep better.
Start by emptying the lungs of air and then inhaling through the nose for four seconds. Hold the breath for seven seconds and then exhale through the mouth for eight seconds through pursed lips. Repeat three to four times.
Like most, you probably don’t think much about your breathing, but deep breathing can be a valuable tool for reducing stress and managing anxiety. By integrating deep breathing exercises into your routine, you can begin to experiment with different techniques and find something that works for you.
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