Looking for deep breathing exercises for anxiety?
Need calming breathing exercises for the morning or before sleep?
My name’s Gabie, I’m a health and wellness coach and yoga instructor. We all experience stress to some degree.
That’s why I specifically incorporate deep breathing exercises for anxiety into all of my yoga classes! It’s a huge focus in my practice for a few reasons…
Deep Breathing Benefits
- Breathing helps to instantly ease anxiety and reduce stress.
- Focussing on the breath is a sort of meditation that helps us to calm down. It forces us to focus all of our attention on one thing, serving as a mental break from our everyday stressors.
- Regularly practicing breathing exercises improves lung capacity and overall health!
Something as simple as breathing has such a powerful effect on our physical and mental health. This is because breathing is a really good way to get our bodies out of ‘fight or flight’ mode and into ‘rest and digest’ mode.
Many of us have varying relationships with our mental health and wellbeing. If you struggle with any mental health issues, breathing can be a super helpful technique to manage triggers and anxiety-inducing situations.
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For example, those struggling with OCD experience a tremendous amount of anxiety on a daily basis. These deep breathing exercises for anxiety will help to take a step back from the trigger that is causing the anxiety, and actively work towards reducing the anxiety, encouraging us to calm down.
But before delving into three super simple deep breathing exercises for anxiety, let’s briefly look at what is happening in the body when we experience anxiety.
What’s Happening When We Get Anxious?
Anxiety is an evolutionary survival trait that we all experience. When we get anxious, our ‘rest and digest’ response shuts down and our ‘fight or flight’ mode is activated. The ‘fight or flight’ response (otherwise known as the sympathetic nervous system) activates when we encounter dangers or ‘stress’.
The body’s main job is to keep up alive. Survival is an instinct that is in all of us. If I were to get attacked by a grizzly bear, there are a few things my body would need to do…
- It would need to suddenly produce enough energy to RUN and run FAST.
- It would need to shut down certain functions, like digestion, so that every muscle and every cell in the body is focussing entirely on getting away from the scary bear.
- It would need to be prepared to keep me alive in case the bear catches me and injures me.
We’ve all experienced an ‘adrenaline rush’. This is a result of the body’s amazing fight or flight response. Essentially, when the fight or flight response is activated, the body releases large amounts of epinephrine. This makes our pupils dilate so that we can see our stresses easier, our heart rate increase, so we can pump blood faster throughout the body, and much more.
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Understanding the Cause of Our Stress
Stress is ESSENTIAL so that our bodies can be ready to keep us alive in case of injury or danger.
Humanity used to fear for survival every single day. We didn’t experience stress in the same way that we do now. We would stress about things like being attacked by a bear, or about not finding enough food to survive. We were stressed about not having a shelter during the cold winter months. We were experiencing life-threatening stresses every single day.
In 2020, we have less stress regarding survival. The stress we experience now typically comes from work, family life, ideas of how we are perceived by others, stress over feeling misunderstood, judged, or unsuccessful.
For most of us, our everyday stresses are not instantly life-threatening. The BIG problem is, our bodies can’t really tell the difference.
Because the fight or flight response is an essential survival trait, evolution is not in a rush to get rid of it. What evolution isn’t taking into account is that we don’t always need such a severe response to stresses that don’t threaten our survival. Our bodies are responding to situations like a bad day at the office as if we could die from it. In our body’s defense, it’s just trying to protect us from what it has interpreted as ‘stress’, whether that stress is life-threatening or not. The body can’t take the risk, it needs to prepare for survival… by activating fight or flight mode.
What Are the Benefits of Deep Breathing?
Did you know, the rest and digest response (PNS) and the fight or flight response (SNS) are both in balance with one another?
Let’s imagine these systems are muscles that need working out. If we activate the fight and flight response a lot, from dealing with frequent or chronic stress, we’re going to be making that system stronger. Our bodies will get really good at getting into fight and flight mode and staying there.
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If we neglect to strengthen the ‘rest and digest’ muscle, it’s going to be weak and as a result, getting back into rest and digest while we’re experiencing stress will be much more difficult.
We want these involuntary systems to be in balance with one another. We do need our fight and flight mode for survival, we just want to be strengthening the parasympathetic nervous system so that we have tools to be able to calm down and reduce stress.
Breathing exercises do exactly that. They encourage the body out of fight or flight and into rest and digest. Practicing deep breathing exercises for anxiety (pranayama in Sanskrit) frequently is a great way to practice stress-management by strengthening our rest and digest system. Breathing exercises are a great way to instantly ease anxiety! This isn’t pseudoscience, feel free to check out all the nitty-gritty details here.
Top Questions about Deep Breathing Exercises for Anxiety
Before jumping into the practice itself, let’s answer some of the most frequently asked questions about deep breathing…
#1. What do you mean by deep breathing?
We breathe all the time. We do it unconsciously, without thinking about it. Deep breathing is the act of breathing with intent. It’s the practice of inhaling to completely fill the lungs with air and exhaling to completely empty the lungs.
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#2. What are the effects of deep breathing?
Deep breathing relaxes us by calming the nervous system. It activates our rest and digest mode (parasympathetic nervous system) and gets us out of our flight and flight mode (sympathetic nervous system).
Practicing deep breathing offers a welcomed distraction in moments of severe anxiety or stress. It also improves our respiratory system, increasing lung capacity.
#3. What are the benefits of deep breathing before sleep?
Because deep breathing relaxes the body, it serves as a great practice before bed. You may notice throughout the day, our shoulders tend to get a bit tense. After a couple of minutes of practising some calming breathing exercises, we’ll notice the shoulders relaxing down the back. The stress-reducing aspect of deep breathing also helps us to get to sleep faster as we have a quieter mind.
3 Easy Breathing Techniques for Anxiety
Deep Breathing Exercise #1:
Yoga Breathing Exercises for Anxiety
Now, let’s get into why you’re here. If you can learn these three deep breathing exercises for anxiety, you’ll have tools under your belt that you’ll be able to use next time you’re feeling anxious and need to calm down. These can be done anywhere, anytime. You don’t need special gear or a quiet room, although if you can find a private spot to do these in, you may feel more comfortable. We’re trying to ease anxiety here, so set yourself up however you feel most comfortable.
The following are perfect morning breathing exercises you can do as soon as you wake up or before you start your workday. You can also practice these deep breathing exercises for anxiety before bed to reduce stress and get to sleep faster.
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How do you Breathe Deeply?
This one’s super simple! Deep breathing is an incredibly effective way of instantly easing anxiety. You can practice this anywhere, standing, sitting, or lying down.
- Whether you’re sitting, standing, or lying down, relax the body.
- Bring the shoulders around the back and away from the ears.
- Take a moment to relax all the muscles in the face, particularly the space between the eyebrows where we hold a lot of tension.
- You can close the eyes or keep them open, however you feel most comfortable, relaxing the eyelids.
- Take a deep, long breath in through the nose to fill the lungs. Breathe out slowly through the mouth.
Repeat these mindful, deep breaths for up to 10 minutes, focusing exclusively on your breathing. After a few deep breaths, you should begin to feel more relaxed. Your thoughts should start to slow down along with the breath.
Deep Breathing Exercise #2:
This breathing exercise is similar to our previous deep breathing pranayama with a few additional relaxation techniques added in.
- Start by sitting on a chair, planting the soles of the feet firmly on the ground, or by sitting on the floor with your legs crossed or on your knees sitting on your heels, however, you’re most comfortable.
- Straighten the neck with the spine and relax the shoulders away from the ears. Place a hand on the stomach just below the ribcage. If it’s comfortable, close the eyes, or you can leave them open relaxing the eyelids.
- Relax the stomach, and take a deep, long breath in through the nose. As you inhale, you’ll notice your hand move as your tummy expands. Breathe out slowly through the mouth, noticing the hand fall as the breath leaves the body.
Focus exclusively on the breath, and the rise and fall of the stomach. After a few mindful breaths, you should notice your anxiety starting to reduce.
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Deep Breathing Exercise #3:
With this breathing technique, we’re really focussing on each exhale. This is another breathing technique you can practice anywhere, at any time.
- Either sitting, standing, or laying down, relax the whole body. Bring the shoulders away from the ears, relax the muscles in the face, softening the eyelids. You can close your eyes if it’s comfortable for you. If not, you can leave them open, relaxing the eyelids.
- Exhale all of the remaining air you have in your lungs. Take a slow, deep inhale through the nose without forcing anything, and then, exhale slowly with control through the nose. We’re trying to lengthen each exhale, making the exhales longer than the inhales.
You can try this exercise timing yourself. If you don’t regularly practice active breathing, you can start with inhaling for the count of 4, and exhaling for the count of 5, or until all of the air is out. Counting during this breathing technique can also act as a welcomed distraction to whatever is causing us anxiety.
Repeat this exercise for a few minutes, until you notice your anxiety starting to dissipate.
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Bonus: What is the 4 7 8 Breathing Technique?
I get asked a lot about this deep breathing exercise for anxiety. This one’s a little more advanced than the 3 previous calming breathing exercises, but it’s another great one to calm down and reduce stress.
- Start sitting or laying down. Relax the muscles in the body, bringing the shoulders away from the ears. We’re going to inhale through the nose for the count of 4, hold for the count of 7, and exhale through the mouth making a whooshing sound for the count of 8.
- Similarly to our other breathing exercises, we’re trying to lengthen the exhales here. If your lung capacity is low, this one might be a bit tricky, but practising calming breathing exercises frequently will increase your lung capacity.
Repeat this breathing exercise for a few minutes, or until you feel your anxiety dissipating.
Practice Deep Breathing Exercises for Anxiety Daily
If you struggle with chronic stress or severe anxiety, it’s a really good idea to practice intentional breathing exercises daily to help strengthen the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest mode).
Free Printable Mindfulness Mantras
Ready to become more mindful during deep breathing? Start taking time for daily mindfulness mediation. Get your 20 FREE Printable Mindfulness Mantra cards.
Remember, the stronger our rest and digest response, the more frequently the body will activate it!
Start managing your stress today by practising these deep breathing exercises for anxiety.
All it takes is 5 minutes a day!
Need to calm down and reduce stress? Click here for 3 deep breathing exercises for anxiety and stress relief, perfect from the morning or before bed. #CalmYourMind #DeepBreathing #Mindfulness #DeepBreathsClick To Tweet
What deep breathing exercises for anxiety do you practice?
More About Guest Contributor
Gabie Lazareff is a health coach and yoga teacher. She’s also a guest writer for the online OCD treatment company, Impulse. Visit Impulse to learn more about how they help people struggling with OCD manage their symptoms and recover, all from the comfort of home.
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