10 Deep Breathing Exercises For Anxiety: Effective Relief Starting Now

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Anxiety is a growing issue. The world is fast-paced, we’re bombarded with information and content constantly, and it seems every day a new catastrophe is on the horizon. It would be weird if you didn’t feel anxious at all. 

If you are looking for natural ways to confront this issue, you can try deep breathing exercises for anxiety. 

The interesting thing about breathing is that it can be both automatic and self-controlled.

Breathing automatically becomes faster and more shallow when we’re anxious, and we can adjust it consciously to calm down. 

There are many deep breathing exercises for anxiety and we’ll go through 10 of them in this guide. We want you to have options because we know not every exercise fits every practitioner.

But first, let’s explain how they work.

a woman holding her chest and belly sitting cross legged practicing deep breathing exercises for anxiety

How Deep Breathing Exercises For Anxiety Work? 

The reason why deep breathing exercises for anxiety work is that breathing directly affects the nervous system. 

Breathing exercises, especially those which prolong the exhalation, activate the parasympathetic nervous system. 

That calms the stress response and brings a feeling of relaxation in the body. 

The heart rate and blood pressure also decrease

In a way, breath regulation tells your body it’s time to slow down and experience what is actually happening. 

So, breathing exercises not only calm down anxiety but also bring you to the present moment so you can become aware of what caused anxiety in the first place.

Then, you can use that to help you express your issue, in a journal, with a friend, or with a professional consultant, depending on the severity of the issue. 

a boy in a blue shirt sitting cross legged on a yoga mat and breathing in a yoga class

Breathing Exercises for Anxiety

1. Belly Breathing or Diaphragmatic Breathing

Shallow breathing limits the range of motion of the diaphragm which can, in itself, cause anxiety. It also activates the ‘fight or flight‘ response.

Practice diaphragmatic breathing every day to change your breathing habit and counteract the anxiety symptoms that are caused by shallow breathing. You can also use it when you are already anxious to calm down or to prep yourself for sleep if you struggle with insomnia

How to do it:

  1. Sit in your chair or on the floor in your favorite meditation posture, with your spine upright. This exercise also works great in a lying down position. 
  2. Place one hand on the stomach and the other on your chest.
  3. First, completely relax your body and your stomach. 
  4. Slowly breathe in with your nose and notice how the hand on your belly raises as it gets filled with air. 
  5. Make the exhalation slightly longer than the inhale and slightly engage the ab muscles to let the air out. The hand on the belly will now lower, but the hand on the chest should remain still. 
  6. You can start with five minutes and slowly prolong your session, more advanced practitioners can do 30 minutes every day. 
a pregnant woman taking deep breaths and holding her belly whilst sitting on the sofa

2. Alternate Nostril Breathing

Alternate nostril breathing is also called nadi shodana and is one of the best-known deep breathing exercises for anxiety. It is traditionally used to relax the body and mind.

As the name implies, the practice includes breathing with one nostril at a time. 

How to do it?

  1. Begin in a comfortable seated position of your choice, making sure the chest stays open. 
  2. Rest the index and middle finger of the right hand between the eyebrows. 
  3. With the thumb, close the right nostril and slowly inhale through the left nostril. 
  4. Now close the left nostril with the ring finger and hold your breath for a moment.
  5. Open the thumb and exhale through the right. Hold for a moment, then inhale through the right.
  6. Then pinch both nostrils, hold once again, and exhale through the left nostril. 
  7. This is one cycle of this breathing exercise. You can keep going for as long as you need to completely calm down. 
a woman practicing nadhi shodhana from side profile

3. The Humming Breath

The humming breath or he bhramari pranayama combines breathing with making a vibration with the mouth to release tension in the body and mind.

 The vibration releases any function that is overactive in the body and the breath activates the parasympathetic nervous system. You can use this breath whenever you feel a need to recalibrate the body and mind – except for anxiety, it’s great for anger and insomnia too. 

How to do it:

  1. As always, sit in a comfortable position or stand in Mountain Pose. 
  2. Take a slow inhale through your nose. Keep the face relaxed.
  3. Close your ears with your fingers to silence outside noises.
  4. Keep the mouth closed and begin to hum like a bee creating a “hmm” sound, until you run out of breath.
  5. Repeat for about five to 10 times. If you still feel agitated, keep going or combine it with other deep breathing exercises for anxiety. 
a man in supine bound angle pose on a yoga mat practicing breathwork

4. Box Breathing

Box breathing is a simple exercise. Everyone can do it and is easy to remember, so it is a great tool to have in moments of anxiety. 

Fun fact: This technique was popularized by U.S. military, which used it for improving performance and regulating stress. 

The name comes from the fact the breath has four equal components, and the practitioners are often instructed to visualize a box with all equal sides while performing the exercise. 

How to do it:

  1. Breathe in to a count of four.
  2. Hold your breath for a count of four.
  3. Exhale for a count of for a count of four.
  4. Hold your breath for a count of four.
  5. Breathe in again, and repeat the cycle. 
  6. You can decrease or increase the count depending on you abilities and how you feel, but always keep it equal in all four steps. 

5. Pursed Lips Breathing

This is one of the best deep breathing exercises for anxiety if you are short of breath. It will oxygenate the lungs and quickly give you more breath control. 

That will automatically calm you down and in turn, deepen your breath. 

This exercise is often recommended to those people whose anxiety is caused by lung conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or emphysema. It is recommended to repeat the exercise 3 or 4 times per day if you struggle with these issues. 

How to do it:

  1. Breathe in through the nose.
  2. Now purse your lips and breathe out, like you’re blowing out the candle.
  3. You don’t have to count but aim to make the exhalation longer than the inhalation. 
  4. Repeat for 7 to 10 times. 
a woman in a white vest holding her hands over her chest

6. 4-7-8 Breathing

Most of our deep breathing exercises for anxiety come from yoga, but this one is a bit more modern. 

It was created by a renowned doctor Andrew Weil M.D., who designed it to help his patients quickly calm their nervous systems. It can be done seated or lying down. 

  1. Begin in the same way as you would for diaphragmatic breathing, with one hand on the belly and the other on the chest.
  2. Take a deep breath in from the belly for a count of four. 
  3. Hold your breath for a count of seven. 
  4. Then exhale for a count of eight, trying to release all the air out.
  5. Repeat for 3 to 7 times, or more if you still feel anxious. 

7. Lion’s Breath

Sometimes, when we are agitated, angry, or severely anxious, we feel unable to do the slow-paced breathing exercises.

Lion’s breath is great for those moments, as it is more aggressive, and allows you to let your negative emotions out, while also calming down stress.

We think this is a great exercise to do before other deep breathing exercises for anxiety on this list, for a full session and complete relaxation. 

How to do it:

  1. Sit in a comfortable posture, like Easy Pose or Hero Pose. You can also sit on a chair. Place your hands on your knees.
  2. Spread out the fingers and stay active in the hands and upper body.
  3. Inhale through the nose.
  4. Open your mouth wide, stick out the tongue, and stretch it down.
  5. Forcefully exhale with a “ha” sound which comes from the belly.
  6. Breathe normally for a couple of times and repeat the Lion’s breath. Perform it for up to 7 times. 
a yoga class in colourful clothes standing with their hands in prayer and eyes closed

9. Resonance

Resonance breathing, also known as coherent breathing is another of the more modern deep breathing exercises for anxiety. 

Studies show that this breathing technique has a positive impact on heart rate variability, blood pressure, stress response, and mood.

How to do it:

  1. Start in a comfortable position, the exercise is easiest to do while lying down. 
  2. Slowly breathe in for a count of six. For most people, this will be slower than their usual inhalation.
  3. Breathe out, also for a count of six, trying to let all the breath out of the lungs, without forcing it.
  4. Repeat, for as long as you like. 

10. Cyclic Sighing

Our last pick for the best deep breathing exercises for anxiety is cyclic sighing. 

The exercise focuses on taking long and controlled exhalations, and it can improve your breathing in just five minutes. It will reduce anxiety and stress, and improve your mood. 

Longer exhalations activate the parasympathetic nervous system, calming the body and lowering your heart rate. 

How to do it:

  1. Slowly inhale through the nose, filling the lungs halfway. Pause.
  2. Then, continue your inhale, trying to completely fill the lungs. 
  3. Now, take a long and slow exhalation to get all the air out. Try to make the exhalation longer than the two inhalations combined.
  4. Repeat for at least 5 minutes. 

Conclusion

Anxiety affects millions of people around the world.

In this article, we gathered 10 deep breathing exercises for anxiety that can help you and your family in combating this issue. 

If you want to learn more about the art of pranayama or yogic breathing article, read one of the articles below: 

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Sara lives in Croatia, near the sea, with her dog. She enjoys exploring nature, and making art. She is currently developing a series of children’s/YA stories and comics in her native language, which she feels complements her work and allows her to live her dream life – having yoga, writing, art, and nature in her every day.

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