3 breathing techniques to manage anxiety

We don’t typically notice our breathing unless there is something wrong. But breath can be a powerful tool in its ability to help ground and move us through difficult emotions. Moving the breath with intention around your body can have incredible results, especially if you struggle with anxiety. Below are 3 practices which use the breath to encourage your body and mind to feel calmer and more stable.

Belly breathing
The powerhouse of this technique is the diaphragm, a large muscle at the base of your lungs. As you inhale the diaphragm expands and air moves into your lungs. When you exhale the diaphragm contracts and air moves out of your lungs. It can be helpful to think of your belly as a balloon expanding as you breathe in and deflating as you breathe out. Belly breathing has long been used to calm anxiety and is also effective in improving yogic practices and vocal technique.

To try this practice, breathe deeply into your belly, letting the abdomen expand fully. Let it sink back as you exhale. Take 3-5 breaths until you feel calmer, and repeat as necessary.

For some added relaxation benefits, try softly blowing your exhale out your mouth like you are blowing out candles. This encourages relaxation by activating your facial muscles, which make us feel safer and at peace.

Alternate side breathing
This is a common practice from yoga, which includes breath work called pranayama. Yogis believe this breathing technique can clear the mind and improve respiration overall. It’s helpful to close your eyes to focus as this includes some unusual dexterity.

Using the right hand, bend the peace fingers down (pointer and middle finger) and use the thumb to depress the right nostril as you breathe in through the left. Then, use your pinky and ring finger to depress your left nostril as you release your thumb and breathe out of the right nostril. On the next inhale, breathe in through your right nostril, continuing to depress the left. Then exhale out your left nostril, depressing the right. You’ll then breathe in through your left, out through your right, and continue repeating the instructions above for a few rounds. When you finish, keep your eyes closed as you take a few normal breaths, then open your eyes.

Lengthening your exhale
Anxiety is the result of your nervous system activating to respond to a threat, either real or imagined. Two parts of your  nervous system are the sympathetic nervous system (which initiates the “fight or flight” response) and the parasympathetic nervous system (which promotes relaxation and calm.) Making your exhale slightly longer as you breathe out engages the parasympathetic response, which makes you feel more at ease.

To experiment with this practice, breathe in normally for a count of 1-2, then breathe out for a count of 1-2-3-4. If this count doesn’t feel long enough, you can increase the inhale to a count of 4 and exhale to a count of 6. See if you can notice if you feel differently during this lengthened exhale as compared to your regular breathing.

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