Right now, take a moment to scan your breath. Close your eyes, and bring awareness to the air as it travels up through your nose, down the throat, and into the lungs. Then, feel as the air escapes out your mouth. Is your breathing deep and relaxed? Or quick and shallow?
If it’s a fast, “can’t quite catch my breath,” you’re probably experiencing stress. You might even catch yourself holding your breath, which is another indicator of high stress. So now, let’s go to the opposite side of the spectrum: breathing deeply. It may sound super simple, but the impacts can be incredibly powerful for combating stress and anxiety. And to top it off, it’s free! All you need is your body. Your breath will take care of the rest. Stay tuned for breathing techniques for anxiety down below!
The Benefits of Deep Breathing For Anxiety
Mini science lesson coming up! The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for your stress response. It releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, speeds up the breathing process, and directs more flood flow out to the limbs for quick moving. The parasympathetic nervous system, however, is responsible for relaxation and healing. It softens the muscles, slows down the breath, and promotes more wellbeing.
When you’re experiencing anxiety, your sympathetic mode is turned on. You’re stressed! And to feel better, we want to get into the parasympathetic, where we can relax and slow down our thoughts. You can think of the breath as like a bridge between the two modes. Deep breathing essentially short-circuits the brain into thinking you’re in a relaxed state, turning on the parasympathetic.
Let’s put it this way. If you’re stressed, your breath is shallow and hard to catch. But when you all of a sudden start to breathe deep and slow, the brain essentially says, “Oh, we’re breathing like we’re relaxed. We must be relaxed now!” And your body can finally start to slow down. So, in a nutshell, deep breathing can lessen anxiety by relaxing the body. It grounds you. And encourages the mind to focus on more positive things.
3 Simple Breathing Techniques to Use When Stressed
Yes, of course, you can simply focus on breathing more deeply. But sometimes, when we’re in a state of panic or high anxiety, it can be hard to slow down. This is where these 3 breathing techniques for anxiety come in!
#1 Box Breathing
Box breathing is actually what some Navy Seals use to stay calm and focused. It’s simple! First, make sure to breathe out all of the air in your lungs. We want to start with a fresh slate! Then, breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds, and hold for 4 seconds. Repeat as needed. If it helps, you can envision a box with 4 squares inside of it, and as you breathe, you’re slowly checking off each box as you go through the process.
Remember. When you’re holding your breath, we’re not holding it out of tightness or clamping down. Even though you’re not inhaling, try to maintain an open, expansive feeling in your body.
#2 The 5-5-7 Breath
The 5-5-7 breath is actually very similar to box breathing, just with a different count. Inhale for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, and exhale for 7 seconds. If it helps, when you exhale, end it with a loud sigh at the end, almost as if you’re breathing out all of the stress. When counting, make sure you’re slow and steady — not just trying to get through the breath!
#3 Belly Breathing
Breathing techniques for anxiety are all about grounding yourself. And one of the best ways to do that? Belly breathing. And it’s just how it sounds! You can use counting like above or skip it altogether. But on the inhale, instead of focusing on filling up your chest, you’re going to breathe into your belly. So as you inhale and exhale, your belly should be rising and falling with the rhythm. You can try it right now. Breathe in, making sure to imagine your stomach filling with air, then breathe out, letting your stomach relax back into your body.
Extra Deep Breathing Tips
Who knew there were so many ways to breathe? Here are a few extra ways you can amplify the effects of deep breathing.
Take It Outside
Nature is grounding. When you find yourself uber stressed, go outside and feel into the weather. It could be soaking up the warmth of the sun or feeling the wind wisp between your fingertips. It could be listening to the sounds of the birds or seeing the cloud move throughout the sky. Take in all of your surroundings. Then, if you can, close your eyes, and start one of the above deep breathing practices.
When we’re anxious, we’re often harder on ourselves, which only increases stress levels. Sometimes it might take you a little bit longer to get to that relaxed state, and that’s okay! Give yourself some grace. Don’t force it. Accept your feelings. Allow yourself to be anxious, and then slowly start to bring your body back to the present.
Incorporate it Into a Meditation
Take your meditation practice up a notch by being more mindful of your breathing. If you haven’t joined our community yet, sign up for free and get access to unlimited free meditations to get you started.
Anytime, Anywhere Breathing: The More You Do It, The Better
Breathing is powerful, and the more you integrate it into your day, the better. You can add it into your morning routine, do it before you eat a meal, or even practice in the shower. Either way, breathing techniques for anxiety work best the less pressure you put on yourself to get it right. Be open. Be relaxed. Remind yourself that you’re safe. Breathe away!