If you’re living with anxiety, you know that your breathing can sometimes get away from you and be a problem. Especially if you’ve dealt with panic attacks, this might be a phenomenon that you’re familiar with. Today I want to introduce five awesome breathing exercises that work really well for when your anxiety is acting up.
- Equal Breathing.
Equal breathing is exactly what it sounds like, inhaling and exhaling for an equal amount of time. Of all the breathing exercises for anxiety, this is probably the most straightforward. You’ll want to inhale through your nose for four seconds and then exhale through your nose for four seconds. You can adjust the inhale and exhale count if you’d like, but the aim is to keep the breaths of the same duration.
This technique actually comes from yoga and is commonly practiced before bedtime, to clear the mind for a restful night of sleep. This is one of those breathing exercises for anxiety that is especially great if your mind tends to race a lot before bed or if you’re someone who has trouble winding down at night. Equal breathing is a great way to reduce some stress.
- 7-second inhale, 5-second exhale.
Another great beginner breathing exercise for anxiety, is to take a nice deep inhale through your nose for 7 seconds and then exhale through your mouth for 5 seconds. I especially like this technique because it really makes you slow down, get some oxygen, and take a second for yourself. I’d recommend 4 – 5 deep breaths with this exercise.
- 4-7-8 Breath.
The 4-7-8 breath, also known as relaxing breath, is similar to the 7-5 breath in that you will be breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. The 4-7-8 breath is performed by inhaling through the nose for four seconds, holding the breath for seven seconds, and then exhaling through the mouth for eight seconds.
Dr. Andrew Weil says that this breathing technique acts as a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. He recommends that you perform this exercise twice a day for the first month. Furthermore, lightheadedness & dizziness can be common when adjusting to this breathing exercise, so be mindful of that.
- Breath Counting.
Breath counting is a really simple concept and a great way to clear the mind. Breath counting is actually a practice to help one stay focused in meditation. A good session can be as short as ten minutes. If you’re looking for additional information, take a look at my article on Candle Meditation.
You’ll take a deep inhale, and then a let out a slow exhale. After the breath has finished and been completely exhaled, you count. Inhale, full exhale, “one.” Inhale, full exhale, “two.” And so on and so forth. Count up to five, and then begin a new count or cycle at one.
Breath counting is one of those breathing exercises for anxiety that really allows you to stay focused because you know you’re drifting off if your breath count goes higher than five.
- Progressive Relaxation.
This one is probably one of my favorite breathing exercises for anxiety. Unlike some of the other breathing exercises for anxiety, progressive relaxation involves the whole body. This exercise begins by breathing in through the nose and holding the breath for 5 seconds. After a 5-count, we exhale through the mouth. Keep this breathing rhythm going while you begin to relax different muscle groups. You’ll start from your toes, then move on to your calves, thighs, and continue up your body. This is done in a way that each breath focuses on a different muscle group:
- Inhale, hold for five seconds, wiggle and relax the toes, exhale.
- Inhale, hold for five seconds, rotate the ankles, exhale.
- Inhale, hold for five seconds, extend and contract the calves, exhale.
Continue this process until you’ve reached your neck, jaw, and eyes. Dizziness is a common occurrence with progressive relaxation so you’ll want to be mindful of how long you’re holding your breath and whether or not you need to make any adjustments.
Progressive relaxation has quite a few different times and places that it can be used, but I’ve found that it makes a fantastic evening ritual before getting into bed at night. Using progressive relaxation before sleep is a great way to calm the body down before trying to relax for the evening.
Grounding techniques and breathing exercises for anxiety will always be an important component to managing these illnesses. Try some of these out and see which one(s) work best for you!