4 Simple Breathing Exercises for Anxiety

Using Focused Breathing to Calm Anxiety

 

When you feel anxious, breathing exercises can calm your body and relax your mind. Here are four simple breathing exercises you can do anywhere to relieve anxiety.

Lion's breath

  • Lion’s breath centers on the idea of exhaling forcefully. 
  • With your ankles crossed, assume a kneeling position and rest your bottom on your feet. If this is uncomfortable, you can sit cross-legged.
  • Rest your hands on your knees and stretch out your fingers and arms. 
  • Breathe deeply in through your nose; then, breathe out through your mouth while saying "haaa."
  • As you exhale, open your mouth wide and stick out your tongue, stretching it downward in the direction of your chin. 
  • Focus on the end of your nose or center of your forehead as you exhale. 
  • Try to relax your face as you take your next breath. 
  • Repeat as many as six times, altering the cross of your ankles when you reach the halfway point.

Equal breathing

  • Stemming from the ancient practice of pranayama yoga, equal breathing means you inhale for the same approximate amount of time as it takes to exhale. 
  • Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
  • Shut your eyes and pay close attention to the way you normally breathe. 
  • Slowly count to four as you inhale through your nose; then, exhale for the same four-second count.
  • As you breathe, focus on the feelings of emptiness and fullness in your lungs. 
  • As you continue, your second count can vary, as long as you keep the count equal when inhaling and exhaling.

Lengthened exhale

Unlike inhaling, which is linked to the sympathetic nervous system, exhaling is linked to the parasympathetic nervous system, which affects our ability to relax. When you feel anxious, it's easy to breathe in quickly causing hyperventilation. You can mitigate this by lengthening each exhale. 

  • Before breathing in, try to exhale thoroughly.
  • Push all the air from your lungs, and then take in a normal breath of air.
  • Next, exhale slowly and repeat, breathing in for a count of four and breathing out for a count of six. 
  • Continue for two to five minutes while sitting or lying in a comfortable position.

Focused breathing

Slow, focused breathing can help reduce anxiety by slowing the heart rate and distracting your mind. 

  • Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
  • Close your eyes and pay close attention to the way you normally breathe. 
  • Mentally scan your entire body from head to toe, paying attention to areas of tension.
  • Inhale slowly through your nostrils
  • Pay attention to the expansion of your stomach and upper body.
  • Exhale slowly, sighing if you wish. 
  • Continue for several minutes, paying close attention to the fall and rise of your stomach. 
  • Choose a word such as "calm" or "safe" to vocalize or focus on as you exhale.
  • Imagine each inhaled breath washing over your body like a tranquil ocean wave.
  • Imagine each exhaled breath washing away upsetting and negative thoughts and energy.
  • If your thoughts begin to wander, gently bring your attention back to your words and breathing.
  • Continue for ten to 20 minutes until you feel a greater sense of calm.

By drawing upon the therapeutic elements of mindfulness meditation, focused breathing exercises can help calm your nerves and enhance your well-being. Although you can use these exercises to cope with anxiety attacks and stress, it's generally best to incorporate them as part of a regular relaxation routine. This means performing the exercises when you aren't necessarily feeling stress or anxious to help cultivate a greater sense of well-being that prevents anxiety from developing in the first place.

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