Breathing Exercises For Anxiety

When you feel stressed out or worried it causes your muscles to tighten which can influence your breathing, whether it results in shallow or rapid breathing. It can feel as though you aren’t getting enough air into your lungs. Often, this is overlooked as a symptom because it can also be related to other illnesses and issues.

Your body responds to anxiety and stress, whether you are aware of your anxiety or not. This symptom can increase your anxiety because you worry about what may be causing the issue. There are breathing exercises that can help you relieve the symptoms of anxiety (and also highlight whether there’s another issue at play, which should help you manage those symptoms as well).

The Long Exhale

a man breathing into a bag during anxiety attack

Typically, when discussing breathing exercises people immediately think about deep breathing. A deep breath is not always sufficient to return yourself to a state of calm. While deep breathing is linked to the body’s sympathetic nervous system, it is exhaling that has been linked to the parasympathetic nervous system. The former controls the body’s fight or flight and the latter the body’s ability to return to calm.

If you take too many breaths and do so quickly you can hyperventilate. This is easy to do when you’re dealing with stress and anxiety. On that note, try this exercise instead.

  • First, exhale deeply, pushing all of the air from your lungs out of your mouth.
  • Inhale deeply through your nose.
  • Now, as you exhale count. The number is up to you, but you should always exhale for a couple of seconds longer than you inhale.
  • Repeat

The Lion’s Breath

This breathing exercise is inspired by the forceful exhale of a lion’s roar.

Start the exercise by moving yourself into a kneeling position or cross-legged. Place your hands on your knees, allowing your fingers and arms to stretch out.

Inhale deeply (through your nose) and as you exhale from your mouth vocalize a great ha. Open your mouth widely (as widely as you can), stretch your tongue out as close to your chin as you can get it, and relax as you inhale.

Repeat five times.

Focused Breathing

The key to deep breathing properly is to do so slowly and with focus. This is an exercise you can do absolutely anywhere, however, it’s best done in a comfortable and quiet spot.

Pay attention to how your body feels when you breathe normally. Note the tension in your muscles throughout your body as you do so. Now, breathe slowly and deeply through your nose. Can you feel your belly push out and your chest expand? The exhale is up to you, whether you sigh, vocalize, or do so silently. Breathe like this for minutes focusing on the rise of your belly and its fall. Now you can choose a word to vocalize at the point of exhaling (suggestions include calm, clear, safe, heal, etc). Imagine that every inhale is like the warm, gentle waters of a secluded ocean washing over you. While every exhale is all of your anxiety, negativity, and worries being washed away with the tide.

If you find your mind wandering or you get distracted, gently refocus your attention back to your breath. You can practice this for as long as 20 minutes.