One of the first things that anxiety affects is our breathing. Shallow, rapid breathing can be a sign that your body is preparing for the stress response aka the fight-or-flight response.
This kind of shallow and improper breathing can upset the intake of oxygen and can even trigger other conditions like panic attacks, fatigue, or emotional exhaustion – all contributing to anxiety and stress.
When you’re anxious, your breathing becomes shallow and fast. This type of breathing can be called chest breathing that can create an imbalance in the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your body.
This kind of imbalance can cause increased heartbeat, dizziness, muscle tension, among other symptoms of anxiety. As a result of low oxygen levels, the stress response can be triggered and can contribute to panic or anxiety.
One of the best ways to regulate breathing during an anxiety attack is to practice deep breathing or abdominal breathing. This kind of breathing can activate the parasympathetic response that can help control heart rate, breathing, and blood flow.
Deep breathing can help you avoid the stress response to emotionally or mentally triggering situations.
Stomach Breathing vs Chest Breathing
Most of the time we’re not even aware of our breathing patterns but did you know that there are two different types of breathing patterns that can help us improve our breathing?
1. Abdominal Breathing:
This type of deep breathing engages our diaphragm and allows our lungs to expand, filling them with air. Newborn babies typically use abdominal breathing. Adults may use this kind of breathing pattern when they’re relaxed, most of the time, during sleep.
2. Chest Breathing:
This type of breathing pattern emerges from the chest and usually involves short and fast breathing. When you’re anxious, you unconsciously breathe this way.
One of the most common (and easiest) ways to understand your breathing pattern is to put one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest. Now breathe normally. See which hand moves the most.
Proper breathing should include expanding and contracting the abdomen with each inhale and exhale. It is better to breathe through your stomach than the chest, if you’re breathing through your chest, then you’re probably struggling with a stressful or anxious situation.
9 Abdominal Breathing Exercises To Reduce Anxiety!
Here are 9 abdominal or deep breathing exercises to help you reduce your anxiety and stress:
1. Alternate Nostril Breathing
Nadi Sodhana or Alternate nostril breathing involves blocking one nostril at a time while alternating between each as you breathe. One of the easiest and effective ways to ward off anxiety is with this breathing exercise.
To practice this exercise, you need to:
Make a Vishnu mudra i.e, on your right hand, bend your index and middle fingers into your palm. This will make your ring finger, pinky finger, and thumb extended.
Close your eyes and begin a slow inhale.
Block your right nostril with your thumb and inhale through your left nostril.
Block your left nostril with your ring finger and exhale through the right nostril.
Repeat this alternatively for a few minutes.
If you begin to feel dizzy, take a break, and breathe normally.
2. Belly Breathing
Did you know that 20 minutes of belly breathing exercise can help reduce stress? You can even break down the duration of this exercise throughout the day. To do belly breathing, lie or sit in a quiet, comfortable position.
Put one hand on your chest and the other on your belly, right below the ribcage.
Relax your belly. Don’t force it inward or clench your belly muscles.
Inhale slowly through your nose. Make sure your stomach rises with the inhale.
Purse your lips and exhale gently. The hand on your chest should remain still during the breathing exercise.
Repeat the process as necessary.
3. Box Breathing
Box breathing, also known as square breathing, is a simple and effective deep breathing exercise that can help reduce stress and anxiety. This breathing exercise involves concentrating on breathing that can help you calm your nerves and reset your breathing pattern.
To practice this, you need to:
Relax your body, keep your eyes closed, and inhale through your nose while counting to 4.
Hold your breath while counting to 4. Avoid inhaling or exhaling.
Exhale slowly while counting to 4.
Hold your breath for a count of 4. Avoid inhaling or exhaling.
Repeat this process a few more times until you begin to feel relaxed.
4. 4-7-8 Breathing
One of the best exercises you can try for reducing anxiety and improving sleep, the 4-7-8 breathing can help calm your nervous system. It is recommended that you practice this exercise while seated straight but once you get the hang of it, you can practice this exercise on your back.
To do this exercise:
Exhale completely through your mouth while making a whooshing sound.
Purse your lips and inhale through your nose while counting silently to four.
Hold your breath for seven seconds.
Through your mouth, exhale while making another whooshing sound while counting silently to eight.
Repeat the process for a few more breaths.
5. Lion’s Breath
Simhasana in Sanskrit, Lion’s Breath is a breathing exercise where you stick your tongue out and roar. This breathing exercise helps relax your facial muscles, improve heart health, and relieve stress.
To practice this exercise, it is recommended you sit in a comfortable position on your arms and knees, with your fingers spread wide, on the floor.
Inhale through your nose.
Open your mouth with your tongue sticking out and stretching downwards.
Exhale forcefully through your open mouth.
As you exhale, make a “ha” sound, coming from your abdomen.
Breathe normally for a few minutes.
Repeat this exercise a few more times.
6. Mindful Breathing
Mindful breathing helps you focus on your breathing and help bring your attention to your present without allowing your mind to drift into the past or the future. To practice mindfulness breathing you need to:
Choose a calming mantra such as “om”. You can also pick a phrase of your choice, one that helps you feel calm.
Next, let go and just be. When you feel your mind drifting, take a deep breath and consciously bring yourself back to the present.
7. Pursed-Lip Breathing
This is another simple deep breathing exercise that is more focused on intentional deep breathing. Pursed-lip breathing can help you if your anxiety is related to other respiratory or breathing problems.
Here’s how to do it:
Sit in a comfortable position. Keep your body relaxed.
With your mouth closed, inhale slowly through your nose for a count of two.
Purse your lips and exhale through your mouth for a count of four.
Make sure your breaths are slow and deep with each inhale and exhale.
Keep practicing at least three to four times a day.
8. Coherent Breathing
Coherent breathing, also known as resonance breathing is another exercise that can help reduce anxiety and make you feel calm.
Here’s how to do this:
Lie flat on your back and close your eyes.
Breathe in through your nose for a count of six. Don’t breathe in too much air.
Exhale slowly and gently for a count of six. Don’t force the exhale.
Continue this exercise for a few minutes. Focus on how your body feels relaxed after you’ve finished.
9. Simple Deep Breathing
This is a simple exercise that you can do as often as you need and can be done anywhere. If this exercise is making you feel anxious, immediately stop the practice. You can gradually start practicing when you feel better.
Here’s how you can practice this:
Inhale slowly but deeply through your nose. Keep your body relaxed. Make sure that your abdomen expands with the inhale.
Exhale slowly through your mouth. Keep your jaw relaxed. As you exhale, make a “whooshing” sound.
Repeat this exercise for several minutes until you feel relaxed.
If you’re struggling with anxiety, you can use any of the above-mentioned deep or abdominal breathing exercises to reduce your symptoms of anxiety. If your anxiety is getting worse or if it continues even after the exercises, it is recommended you seek professional help.
If you have any other respiratory problems or conditions such as asthma or lung conditions, it is suggested that you speak with your doctor before practicing these exercises.
With the right diagnosis and treatment, your anxiety can be treated and with the right steps, it can be controlled.
Deep breathing can help bring your breathing back to normal but only if you listen to your body’s signals and be more mindful of your breathing and how it affects your daily life.
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Inhale calm, exhale anxiety!
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