5 Breathing Techniques That Can Immediately Treat Your Anxiety!
A change in breathing pattern can actually lead to relaxation
HOW DO YOU USUALLY BREATHE?
The connection between your breathing pattern and anxiety, stress, and relaxation is surprisingly strong.
If you want to experience this connection for yourself, you can spend 30 seconds imagining something stressful. But do so while observing how you breathe.
You’ll most likely find that it changes drastically in many ways, most prominently to the rate and depth of your breaths.
A relaxed and calm mind is affiliated with a slow and smooth breathing pattern. Meanwhile, anxiety and stress is affiliated with more rapid, shallow, and jagged breathing.
This anxious and stressed breathing can also quickly lead to something known as hyperventilation.
This is a state in which breathing too fast or deep leads to a deficiency of CO2 in the blood, and this can get uncomfortable very fast.
Some of the symptoms associated with hyperventilation are shortness of breath, chest pain, a racing heart, dizziness, tingling and numbness sensations, and increased anxiety.
These symptoms will be eerily familiar to anyone suffering from stress, anxiety, or panic. This is certainly not by coincidence either, but rather because we end up hyperventilating when in these states.
So emotional states have a strong influence over our breathing pattern, but here’s the thing… It works the other way around as well!
Our breathing pattern has the ability to influence and change emotional states, meaning a good breathing pattern can actually lead to relaxation.
If we choose to change our breathing pattern to a more relaxed one, by breathing slow and deep, we can reduce stress, anxiety, and panic.
This happens because slow and deep breathing triggers something known as the relaxation response through vagus nerve stimulation.
Many specific breathing patterns can lead to this same response being activated, so let’s take a look at the most effective variants.
WATCH OUT FOR HYPERVENTILATION
Before you try any of the breathing techniques discussed in this article, there’s something you should keep in mind.
It’s not uncommon to start feeling lightheaded, dizzy, or even anxious whenever you experiment with a new breathing pattern.
If this happens it’s most likely because of hyperventilation as you were probably breathing too deep or too fast.
Hyperventilation isn’t dangerous, but it can be uncomfortable, and it goes away as soon as you return to your normal breathing pattern.
If you end up feeling dizzy or lightheaded during your practice I recommend taking a break and trying again later, but try to not breathe as deeply, or if possible even slower the next time.
1) BREATHING AWARENESS
It can be helpful, especially if you’re stressed or anxious to take some time out of your day to just experience how you breathe naturally.
This process of practicing breathing awareness helps you figure out exactly what needs to be worked on.
There’s a fair chance that your breathing pattern is not relaxed by default, it might even be anxious and stressed, and potentially causing hyperventilation.
To become more familiar with and aware of your breathing pattern, start by lying down on your back with one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest.
As you breathe in and out, pay attention to how your hands are moving. Is your abdomen expanding with each inhale, or do you find more movement in your chest?
If you find that there is little to no movement in your abdomen, you might be prone to something called chest breathing.
Ideally you want to breathe all the way into your abdomen, so practice getting that air all the way down into your lungs.
You can also pay attention to whether your breathing is fast or slow and jagged or smooth, and how about your shoulders, are they tense or relaxed?
Spend some time in this position each day just examining and experiencing your breathing.
When you have a good awareness of your breathing while lying down, repeat the breathing awareness exercise in a sitting and standing position.
2) YOGIC BREATHING
Yogic breathing is a simple form of abdominal breathing originating from the ancient practice of yoga.
You have the choice between practicing in a seated position with your spine straight, or while lying down on your back on a flat surface.
When you’ve gotten into a comfortable position, close your eyes and start by inhaling through your nose. Draw the air all the way into your abdomen.
Before breathing out, hold the air for a second or two, and when that is done you can exhale slowly through your nose. Try to empty your lungs completely before you inhale again.
While you practice yogic breathing, focus all of your attention on wherever you can feel the sensation of your breath the strongest.
As Henepola Gunaratana explains in his book “Mindfulness in Plain English”:
This sensation is usually found just inside the nostrils or alternatively in the rhythmic movement of your abdomen as you breathe in and out.
3) ALTERNATE-NOSTRIL BREATHING
This is another popular and relaxing breathing technique originating from yoga.
You want to start by getting into a comfortable seated position with your spine straight.
Close your eyes and begin with some yogic breathing. As you feel comfortable, bring one hand up to your nose and close one of your nostrils using a finger.
Traditionally the thumb and ring fingers are used to alternate between closing one nostril and the other. The index and middle fingers are either folded up or kept on the forehead as an anchor.
As you breathe in through one nostril, drawing the air all the way into your abdomen, let your lungs fill completely.
Hold the air for a second or two, then switch nostril and exhale slowly until your lungs are empty.
Now breathe in through the open nostril, the same one you just used to breathe out. Letting your lungs fill up completely, hold the air for a second or two as you switch nostril, and breathe out slowly.
Keep alternating like this from nostril to nostril as you gradually feel more calm and relaxed.
4) THE 4-4-4 BREATHING PATTERN
Breathing pattern number four is appropriately called the 4-4-4.
To practice this variant you want to start in a seated position or while lying down on your back.
Inhale deeply through your nose for 4 seconds, letting your lungs fill up.
After hitting the count of four and feeling your abdomen expand, hold the air for a count of 4. Then empty your lungs completely by breathing out through your nose or pursed lips for another count of 4.
The reason you might want to use pursed lips is to better control the flow of air. From personal experience it can be difficult to breathe slow enough without this trick.
Keep repeating the 4-4-4 cycle as you drift into relaxation and calm.
5) THE 4-7-8 BREATHING PATTERN
This variant, sometimes called the 4-7-8 breathing pattern, is similar to the previous one, but with a longer hold and exhale.
All in all, it’s a 19 second long breath cycle. Surely enough to induce relaxation and avoid hyperventilation, but it can be difficult to breathe this slowly.
To give it a try, inhale through your nose all the way into your abdomen for a count of 4. And then transition into a 7 second hold.
After 7 seconds have passed, breathe out through your nose or pursed lips for 8 seconds. Keep repeating the cycle until you feel calm and relaxed.
In case 19 seconds is too straining, you can also get more or less the same relaxing effect by breathing faster. But you should still follow the same ratio.
Basically your exhale should be twice the length of your inhale, and you want to hold the air for a bit longer than the time spent inhaling.
You can for example try a three second inhale, five second hold, and six second exhale.
YOUR MAIN GOAL IS TO SLOW DOWN
The most important part is that you slow down your breathing, and in theory any pattern that does this is going to help with relaxation.
I would also recommend aiming for a slightly longer exhale than the time spent inhaling, as this generally seems to be good for relaxation.
Feel free to experiment, it’s your body after all, and you’ll know best what works for you!
But definitely try to slow down your breathing the next time you find yourself feeling anxious, panicky or stressed, and let me know if it helped by leaving a comment below! I love hearing your feedback!