Anxiety can be an overwhelming feeling, affecting your overall mental and physical well-being.
According to the World Health Organization, there are over 200 million people in the world affected by anxiety.
Anxiety can sometimes leave you feeling overwhelmed and stressed.
Together with your doctor’s recommendations, breathing exercises for anxiety can be of support.
In this article:
- What is anxiety and main causes
- Benefits of Breathing Exercises
- The connection between breathing and anxiety
- Why practice breathing exercises for anxiety
- 5 effective breathing exercises for anxiety
- Tips for maximizing the benefits of breathing exercises
Read on to learn more about how to utilize the power of your breath to ease the causes and symptoms of anxiety.
What is anxiety + Its main causes
Anxiety is a feeling of fear, worry, or unease.
It is a normal reaction to stress and when anxiety becomes excessive, it can interfere with daily life and negatively impact a person’s mental health.
The main causes of anxiety can include:
- A family history of anxiety and mental health-related conditions can increase the likelihood of developing anxiety.
- Stressful or traumatic events such as abuse, a significant loss, or a major life change.
- Imbalances in brain chemicals, like serotonin and dopamine.
- Perfectionism, low self-esteem, a tendency to be pessimistic, and other personality factors can contribute to raised levels of anxiety.
- Certain medical conditions, such as thyroid imbalances and heart disease, may cause anxiety symptoms.
- Certain drugs and alcohol can contribute to anxiety symptoms and may worsen underlying anxiety disorders.
Benefits of Breathing Exercises
Breathing exercises for anxiety like the ones we will share with you in this article can calm the mind, reduce stress hormones, and improve overall mental well-being amongst many other benefits.
Here are some of the main benefits of breathing exercises:
- Focused breathing techniques, like Kumbhaka retentions, can strengthen the lungs and improve your lung capacity.
- Improve physical performance in sports and other physical activities by increasing oxygen intake and improving your endurance.
- Deep breathing exercises for anxiety like Diaphragmatic breathing can help stimulate the lymphatic system, which plays an important role in the immune system.
- Some breathing techniques may help decrease blood pressure, which reduces the risk of heart disease.
The connection between breath and anxiety
Believe it or not, breathing and anxiety are closely connected.When you experience anxiety, the body activates the “fight or flight” response, which increases the heart rate and makes breathing faster and more shallow.
This can cause more anxiety, which can lead to further shallow breathing and even hyperventilation.
On the other hand, actively focusing on slow, deep breaths can help to calm anxiety and regulate the “fight or flight” response, bringing your nervous system into “rest and digest”.
In other words, your parasympathetic system becomes activated, and your sympathetic nervous system relaxes when you practice breathing exercises for anxiety and other pertinent techniques.
Why practice breathing exercises for anxiety
Taking some time to learn and practice some breathing exercises for anxiety can give you support in several ways, especially in those times when it may catch you off-guard:
- When you focus on your breath, it slows down your heart rate and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you feel more relaxed.
- Breathing exercises can help reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety, like shortness of breath and chest tightness.
- Focusing on your breath can help you redirect your thoughts away from anxious or negative thoughts and focus on the present moment.
- Breathing exercises can help you become more aware of your body and your thoughts, which can help you better manage your anxiety.
5 effective breathing exercises for anxiety
There are many pranayama techniques and they all come with a wide range of benefits, but also some counterindications.
Here we will share with you just a few of the many breathing exercises for anxiety that are available and proven to be effective, in the hopes that you explore what resonates with you most, and to the extent that feels supportive.
When working on managing your anxiety symptoms, please first consult with a trusted health professional, and when unsure, reach out to a yoga, meditation, or pranayama teacher for support.
Here are 5 easy breathing exercises for anxiety for you to try out:
1# Deep Belly Breathing
Deep belly breathing is an accessible technique for reducing anxiety and calming the mind and body.
The technique involves breathing deeply and slowly, filling the lungs with air, and allowing the belly to expand fully with each breath.
To perform deep belly breathing, find a quiet and comfortable spot to sit or lie down.
Place both hands over your belly if that feels okay for you.
Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose, filling the lungs and allowing the belly to expand.
As you exhale, slowly release the air through the nose or mouth, letting your belly fall back down, releasing any tension.
Repeat this cycle of breath, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the nose or mouth, between three and five times, or until you feel a bit more present.
By taking slow, deep breaths, you signal to the body that it is safe for you to relax, and the body responds by slowing down your heart rate, reducing blood pressure, and decreasing muscle tension.
Deep belly breathing is one of the most simple calming breathing exercises for anxiety that you can have as a resource, and it can also be used as a quick and effective tool for managing anxiety in challenging situations, such as public speaking or social events.
Here is a short practice for you to try:
2# Box breathing (Square Breathing)
This breathing exercise for anxiety is also called square breathing, and it involves taking slow and deep breaths while visualizing a square shape.
If you want to try it out, take a seat, soften your gaze, or close your eyes.
Breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, and finally, hold your breath for four seconds again, while imagining a square shape before you, letting yourself relax.
Keep repeating this until you start to feel calmer, and your heart rate slows down.
For those who may have already practiced breathing exercises for anxiety before and are ready to try another pranayama that involves breath retention, try the 4-7-8 method.
With the 4-7-8 breathing exercise for anxiety, focus on counting your breaths as you inhale and exhale.
Start by inhaling and counting to four, hold your breath for seven, and then exhale as you count to eight.
Continue counting your breaths this way until you feel a sense of relaxation.
This technique, known in Sanskrit as Nadi Shodhana is great at helping you balance your energy, bringing you to a more centered and focused state.
Sit comfortably and bring your right index and middle finger between your eyebrows.
Use your right thumb to close your right nostril just a bit, and breathe in through your left nostril slowly.
Now, use your right ring finger to close your left nostril, remove your right thumb from your right nostril, and exhale completely through your right nostril.
Inhale again through the right nostril.
Close the right nostril, and exhale through the left nostril, finishing one cycle of Nadi Shodhana.
Repeat this for a few cycles.
To try this pranayama, sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor and take a few deep breaths to relax.
Inhale slowly through your nose, filling your lower belly with air.
Continue inhaling expanding your ribcage and filling your lungs with air.
Inhale even a bit more, filling your chest now.
Exhale slowly through your nose or mouth letting all the air out of your lungs.
Repeat for several rounds, focusing on the sensation of the breath moving in and out of your body.
Tips for maximizing the benefits of breathing exercises
1# Breathe through your nose
If possible for you, know that breathing through your nose can increase the benefits of breathing exercises for anxiety as it helps to filter and warm the air as it enters your body.
2# Build gradually
When you’re feeling anxious, remember to start small.
Begin with short practice sessions and gradually increase the duration of your breathing exercises for anxiety over time.
Try to practice breathing exercises daily or at least a few times a week to maintain the benefits you have gained.
It may take time to feel the benefits of breathing exercises for anxiety, so be patient with yourself!
Breathing exercises for anxiety are a simple and effective way to manage mild anxiety symptoms.
By practicing deep belly breathing, box breathing, 4-7-8 breathing, alternate nostril breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, and other pranayama techniques, you’ll learn to regulate your breath, calm your mind, and reduce stress levels.
To learn about mantras you can use for anxiety, read this next.