Breathing Techniques to Reduce Anxiety

breathing tips for anxietyAnxiety affects your entire body, which can make calming yourself remarkably difficult. The more anxious or stressed you feel, the more symptoms you may experience. Learn how to use breathing techniques to self-soothe, calm your body and regulate your breathing.

How Do Stress and Anxiety Affect Your Body?

Stress and anxiety are powerful emotions, able to impact both your mental and physical health. While most people are familiar with the mental toll anxiety and stress can take, many people are unaware of the very real physical symptoms. People experiencing significant anxiety may see changes in their cardiovascular, digestive, immune and respiratory systems. Depending on the severity of your stress and anxiety, these are some of the symptoms you may experience: 

  • Chest pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • Digestive changes and upset
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling too cold or too hot
  • Hyperventilation
  • Inability to catch your breath
  • Insomnia
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Panic attacks
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Restlessness
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Tendency to get sick
  • Tingling
  • Weakness

Because some of these symptoms can truly make you feel ill, they often cause additional anxiety or stress, creating a frightening and uncomfortable cycle. Thankfully, you can combat that cycle, and the feelings and symptoms that cause them, with some awareness and some simple exercises.

The COVID-19 Pandemic May Increase Anxiety

If you have noticed an increase in your stress and anxiety as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, you are not alone. While increased stress during an infectious disease outbreak is quite common, this particular situation is unique. The COVID-19 outbreak is a new and frightening situation for most of us, and with unprecedented changes being implemented across the world, including long-term social distancing and isolation, many people find that they are struggling with new worries and fears. Not only that, but with many people spending more time than usual reading or watching the news and on social media, the influx of information can be overwhelming. People who fall into high risk categories may experience additional stress and anxiety and accompanying symptoms. During an unusual situation like this, you can expect to experience any of the anxiety and stress symptoms above, along with these possible changes:

  • Changes in diet or eating patterns
  • Changes in sleeping patterns 
  • Increase in alcohol or substance use
  • Increase in fear/worry about health and safety of yourself and others
  • Worsening chronic health problems
  • Worsening mental health

As you and your loved ones attempt to navigate this crisis, it is essential to find healthy ways to cope with the complex emotions that may arise.

How to Combat Stress and Anxiety

There is a lot you can do to reduce your anxiety and stress, and the symptoms that go along with it. Start with getting plenty of sleep, connecting with people you care about and taking time to unwind and reset. Ensure you take good care of your body by eating well, getting regular exercise and avoiding excess substance use. You can also significantly reduce anxiety with breathing exercises that help you breathe more effectively and slow your breathing down. People typically breathe in one of two ways: 

  • Diaphragmatic breathing (healthy breathing), which involves deep, even breaths where you see your belly rise and fall. 
  • Thoracic breathing (stressed breathing), which involves quick, shallow breaths that cause the chest to expand, and often causes shoulder and neck muscles to tense. 

Breathing techniques help you learn to breathe correctly, which helps your body maintain proper oxygen and carbon dioxide levels and helps you regulate your breathing and self-soothe when necessary. 

Breathing Techniques to Reduce Anxiety and Stress

The following three breathing exercises can help you learn how to breathe correctly and manage your anxiety and stress symptoms. These exercises will teach you how to use the correct muscles to breathe, while also keeping your breaths slow and measured to calm your body.

  • Diaphragmatic Breathing: Helps you combat the inefficient breathing habits that often arise when you are feeling anxious or stressed. 
    • Lie down on your back with your knees bent and a pillow under your knees.
    • Place one hand on your abdomen below your waist and the other hand on your chest. 
    • Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose while gently pushing your abdomen out. Keep your neck, shoulder, chest and rib muscles still. 
    • Exhale slowly through pursed lips while gently pushing inward and upward on your abdomen to empty your lungs. 
    • Repeat for 5-10 minutes.
  • Pursed Lip Breathing: This exercise helps you slow your breathing and open your airways so you experience a fuller breath and exhalation.  
    • Start by sitting comfortably and relaxing your neck and shoulder muscles. 
    • With your mouth closed, inhale a regular breath slowly through your nose for two counts. 
    • Before exhaling, purse your lips as though blowing out a candle, then exhale slowly through pursed lips while counting to four. 
    • Repeat until rapid breathing or breathlessness is under control.
  • Coherent Equal Breathing: Helps to lengthen your breaths to calm the body and soothe the mind. 
    • Lay flat on the floor and note how long your inhales and exhales are when you begin. 
    • Breathe into your belly and try to lengthen your next breath by a count, starting with your exhale, then adding in the inhale. 
    • If you started with each inhale and exhale at a one count on each side, stretch your next exhale to two counts, then both your inhale and exhale to two counts.
    • Do not overfill your lungs and focus on the rise and fall of your belly, keeping your breaths gentle as you slow them down.
    • See if you can get to an inhalation for a count of four, and an exhalation for a count of four.

Practice these techniques first when you feel good so that you can access them more easily when you are feeling stressed or anxious. Then, keep them in your toolbelt whenever you begin to feel overwhelmed. Anxiety and stress are powerful, but you are more powerful. Use these breathing exercises to stay calm and breathe more easily. 

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