Breathe Your Way to Calm: Can Breathing Exercises Really Help Master Anxiety?

Unleashing the Transformative Power of Breathwork Techniques for Overcoming Anxiety and Achieving Inner Calm

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Team Respira
17 Apr 2023
10 min read
RESPIRA Master Anxiety

Anxiety & Breathing

Anxiety is a common mental health condition that affects millions of people around the world. It can manifest in various ways, such as racing thoughts, rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, and shortness of breath. While there are many approaches to managing anxiety, one powerful technique that has gained significant attention is breathing exercises.

Breathing exercises are simple yet effective techniques that can help calm the mind and body, and reduce anxiety symptoms. They can be done anywhere, anytime, and are especially useful in stressful situations or when feeling overwhelmed. In this blog post, we will explore the benefits of anxiety breathing exercises and provide you with some simple techniques to incorporate breathing properly into your daily routine.

Understanding the Science of Breathing and Anxiety

Breathing is an automatic process controlled by our autonomic nervous system, which consists of two branches:

The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).

The SNS is responsible for the "fight or flight" response, which triggers when we are stressed or anxious. It causes our heart rate to increase, our muscles to tense up, and our breathing to become shallow and rapid.

On the other hand, the PNS is responsible for the "rest and digest" response, which helps calm the body down and brings it back to a relaxed state.The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).

By consciously controlling our breathing, we can activate the PNS and counteract the effects of the SNS, effectively reducing anxiety symptoms.

Breathing exercises can help slow down our heart rate, lower our blood pressure, and increase oxygen flow to our brain, which can lead to a calmer state of mind and body.

Anxiety breathing

Shallow breathing Contributes to Anxiety

The use of sound for healing purposes dates back to ancient times, with evidence of sound healing and other meditative practices found in Egyptian hieroglyphics and the Vedas of ancient India. In Tibet, sound has been used in meditation and healing for thousands of years, with the use of Tibetan singing bowls being a prominent example of this tradition. Tibetan crystal singing bowls are said to have originated in the Himalayas and were used by Buddhist monks in their meditative practices.

In recent times, sound healing has become more widely recognized and practiced in the Western world. The use of sound therapy has been incorporated into traditional medical practices, including the treatment of mental health conditions by licensed mental health providers.


Shallow breathing often leads to hyperventilation, which is the excessive intake of air beyond what the body needs. This can disrupt the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in all the air in body, leading to symptoms such as dizziness, tingling sensations, and a rapid heartbeat.
These physical sensations can trigger a sense of alarm in the body, leading to heightened anxiety.

Increased Muscle Tension

Shallow breathing is often accompanied by increased muscle tension, particularly in the chest, neck, and shoulders. This can lead to discomfort and pain in these areas, which can further exacerbate anxiety.Increased muscle tension can also contribute to a feedback loop, where anxiety leads to tense muscles and equal breathing, and tense muscles in turn contribute to more anxiety.

Disrupted Relaxation Response

Deep breathing from the diaphragm has been shown to activate the relaxation response in the body, which helps to counteract the stress response. On the other hand, shallow breathing can disrupt this relaxation response, keeping the body in a state of heightened stress and anxiety.

Increased Sensitivity to Stress

Shallow breathing can also increase sensitivity to stress. When the body is not receiving enough oxygen due to shallow or slow breathing itself, it can perceive stressors as more threatening than they actually are, leading to an exaggerated stress response and increased anxiety.

Psychological Factors

Shallow breathing can also have psychological factors that contribute to anxiety.For example, when we are anxious, we tend to take shallower breaths in response to the body's fight-or-flight response.

This shallow breathing pattern can then signal to the brain that there is a threat, further intensifying anxiety.

Deepening Your Breathing Practice for Anxiety Relief

The Power of Deep Breathing

In the face of anxiety, deep breathing exercises serve as an anchor, grounding us back to a state of equilibrium. By taking a deep breath, we signal our body to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which can help in lowering blood pressure and inducing a state of calm. A deep breath or a series of deep breaths can disrupt the cycle of shallow breathing that is often associated with the stress response, providing immediate stress relief.

Simple Breathing Exercises for Anxiety

Belly breathing

Belly breathing, also known as abdominal breathing, is a simple breathing technique that emphasizes breathing deeply into the abdomen rather than the chest. This form of breathing exercise not only helps to relieve stress but also enhances oxygen exchange and supports full lung expansion.

• Place one hand on your shoulders relaxed chest and the other on your belly to feel the movement.
• Try to inhale for a count of four, hold for a count of four, and exhale for a count of four.
• Repeat this cycle for a few minutes, focusing on the sensation of your breath and allowing your body to relax with each exhale.

Box Breathing Technique

Box breathing is a structured form of breathing exercise that can be particularly effective in stressful situations. It involves inhaling to a count, holding the breath, exhaling to the same count, and then holding again, forming a 'box' pattern. This breathing technique fosters concentration and is a potent method to relieve anxiety.

• Step 1: Find a Comfortable Seat
Sit in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the floor. Keep your back straight and hands relaxed in your lap. Close your eyes if it helps you concentrate.

• Step 2: Slowly Exhale
Begin by slowly exhaling all of your air out through your mouth, emptying your lungs completely.

• Step 3: Inhale
Gently inhale through your nose to a slow count of four, feeling the air fill your lungs one section at a time until they are full.

• Step 4: Hold Your Breath
Hold your breath for another slow count of four.

• Step 5: Exhale
Exhale through your mouth for the same slow count of four, expelling the air from your lungs and abdomen.

• Step 6: Hold Again
Hold your breath once more for a count of four before beginning the next breath cycle.

Repeat this process for several minutes: inhale for four counts, hold for four counts, exhale for four counts, and hold again for four counts. This ‘box’ pattern of equal parts breath in, hold, breath out, hold, can create a rhythm that helps focus the mind and reduces stress.

4-7-8 Breathing Technique

‍This technique is also known as the "relaxing breath" and involves inhaling deeply through your nose for a count of four, holding your breath for a count of seven, and exhaling slowly through your mouth for a count of eight.
This pattern box breathing is repeated for a few minutes, and it can help calm the nervous system and promote relaxation.

• Step 1: Find a Comfortable Position
Choose a quiet place where you won't be disturbed. Sit with your back straight or lie down comfortably. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there throughout the practice.

• Step 2: Completely Exhale
Begin by parting your lips slightly and making a whooshing sound as you exhale completely through your mouth.

• Step 3: Inhale Through Your Nose
Close your lips and silently inhale through your nose to a mental count of four.Step 4: Hold Your BreathHold your breath for a count of seven.

• Step 5: Exhale Through Your Mouth
Exhale completely through your mouth, making the whooshing sound to a count of eight.Step 6: Repeat the CycleRepeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

Alternate Nostril Breathing Technique

Alternate nostril breathing is a cornerstone in yogic breathing techniques that can harmonize the left and right hemispheres of the brain, thus promoting balance. It involves alternately closing one nostril while breathing through the other, using a hand in a pursed lips position, which can have a therapeutic effect on the nervous system.

• Step 1: Find a Quiet Space
Choose a peaceful location where you can sit comfortably with a straight spine. Cross-legged on the floor or seated in a chair with feet flat on the ground are both good positions.

• Step 2: Prepare Your Hand
Place your right thumb on your right nostril and your ring finger on your left nostril. Your pinky can rest beside your ring finger, and your other two fingers can rest gently on your forehead or be folded down.

• Step 3: Exhale Completely
Use your thumb to close your right nostril and exhale fully through your left nostril.

• Step 4: Inhale Through the Left Nostril
Inhale slowly and deeply through your left nostril while keeping the right nostril closed.

•Step 5: Switch and Exhale
Close your left nostril with your ring finger, release your thumb, and exhale through your right nostril.

• Step 6: Inhale Through the Right Nostril
Inhale through the right nostril with the left nostril still closed.

• Step 7: Switch and Exhale
Close the right nostril again and exhale through the left nostril.

• Step 8: Continue the Pattern
Continue this pattern of inhaling through one nostril, switching, and exhaling through the other for several cycles. Each inhale-exhale pair is one cycle.

Counting Breaths

‍This technique involves simply counting your breaths as you inhale and exhale.

• Start by inhaling deeply through your nose, and as you inhale slowly as you exhale, count "one" in your mind.
• Inhale again, and as you exhale, count "two," and so on, up to ten.
• Then, start again from one. If your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to your breath and the counting.

This exercise can help bring focus to your breath and distract your mind from anxious thoughts.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation Techniques

‍While not strictly a breathing exercise, progressive muscle relaxation can complement your breathing techniques to further reduce anxiety.

• Start by finding a quiet and comfortable space.
• Begin by tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in your body, such as your jaw, shoulders, arms, chest, abdomen, buttocks, legs, and feet.
• As you tense each muscle group, take a deep breath in, and as you release the tension, exhale your body slowly.

This exercise can help release physical tension and promote relaxation.

Incorporating Breathing Exercises into Your Routine

Regular practice of breathing exercises such as diaphragmatic breathing, box breathing, and alternate nostril breathing can have profound effects on managing anxiety. These practices help in regulating the body's stress and relaxation responses, thus providing a natural method for anxiety management. Engaging in a few minutes of focused breathing can serve as a powerful tool for not just relieving stress but also for maintaining overall mental well-being.

Set aside dedicated time

Find a specific time in your day when you can set aside a few minutes for breathing exercises. It could be in the morning to start your day off on a calm note, during a lunch break, or in the evening to wind down before bed.

Making a habit

Consistency is key when it comes to incorporating breathing exercises into your routine. Aim to practice them daily, even for just a few minutes, to reap the full benefits.

Find what works for you

There are various breathing techniques available, so experiment and find what works best for you. Some techniques may resonate with you more than others, so trust your intuition and choose the ones that feel most effective for your anxiety management.

Practice mindful breathing

During your breathing exercises, try to focus your attention on your breath and the sensations in your body. Avoid distractions and bring your awareness to the present moment. Mindful breathing can enhance the effectiveness of the exercises.

Use it as a tool in stressful situations: Breathing exercises can be a helpful tool to manage anxiety in stressful situations, such as before a presentation, during a difficult conversation, or when you feel a panic attack coming on.

Incorporating Breathing Exercises into Your Routine

In conclusion, breathing exercises are a simple yet powerful technique for managing anxiety. By consciously controlling our breath, we can activate the relaxation response in our body and calm our minds.

Experiment with different techniques, make it a part of your routine, and use it as a tool in stressful situations to experience the benefits of breathing exercises for anxiety relief. Remember to always consult with a healthcare or mental health professional first if you have severe anxiety or any other medical condition.Take a deep breath, relax, and take control of your anxiety with the power of your breath.


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