5 Best Breathing Techniques for Anxiety

April 29, 2024

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Stress and anxiety can adversely affect health in many different ways. However, various breathing techniques can induce a relaxation response, potentially making you feel more peaceful and grounded.

How Do Breathing Techniques Help with Anxiety?

Under stress, breathing patterns change. A person begins to hyperventilate, which means breathing excessively.

Typically, an adult breathes about 15 times per minute at rest. However, stress activates our fight or flight response, causing our breathing rate to increase. Since we’re not physically fleeing or confronting danger, the surplus oxygen doesn’t get used and accumulates in our bloodstream. This can lead to symptoms like dizziness, lightheadedness, numbness, and shortness of breath.

To counteract stress and enhance our mental health, employing breathing techniques to balance the gases in our bodies can be extremely effective. These methods are accessible to anyone, require minimal time, and aim to eliminate excess oxygen.

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Best Breathing Techniques for Anxiety

Here are 5 anxiety deep breathing techniques to try if you’re struggling with any type of anxiety disorder.

1)  4-7-8 technique

The 4-7-8 technique is perhaps the most common breathing technique for anxiety. Otherwise known as relaxing breath, this technique acts as a natural sedative for the CNS (central nervous system). Start by practicing this method sitting with your back straight. With more experience, you can perform this technique while lying down.

  • Put the tip of your tongue behind your upper front teeth throughout the exercise.
  • Fully exhale, making a whooshing sound.
  • Silently breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds.
  • Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
  • Exhale through your mouth, making a whooshing sound, for 8 seconds.

2) Resonance breathing

Resonance breathing, also known as coherent breathing, is effective for reducing anxiety and achieving a state of relaxation. Studies indicate that this breathing technique can positively affect anxiety, stress responses, and mood, including improvements in heart rate variability and blood pressure during stress.

  • Begin by closing your eyes and lying down.
  • Slowly breathe in through your nose for 6 seconds. Don’t overfill your lungs.
  • Exhale for 6 seconds.
  • Maintain this pattern for 10 minutes, focusing on how your body feels.

3) Diaphragmatic breathing

Originally recommended for COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), diaphragmatic breathing has been shown to also reduce stress.

  • Sit or lie down, putting one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.
  • Breathe in through your nose, concentrating on raising your abdomen.
  • Purse your lips and exhale, focusing on lowering your abdomen.
  • Repeat this pattern.

4) Deep breathing

Deep breathing is straightforward and versatile technique, suitable while sitting, standing, or lying down.

  • Relax your stomach.
  • Put one hand below your ribs.
  • Breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose, feeling your hand rise.
  • Exhale through your mouth, observing your hand fall.

5) Belly breathing

Belly breathing is a well-supported technique for mitigating the negative effects of stress.

  • Begin in a seated or lying position.
  • Put one hand on your chest and the other hand below your ribcage on your stomach.
  • Breathe in slowly through your nose, directing the air to your abdomen, causing it to expand.
  • Purse your lips and exhale, feeling your stomach fall.
  • Notice the movement in your stomach rather than your chest and repeat the cycle several times for the best effect.

Breathing Techniques for Anxiety Attacks

In moments of heightened anxiety or during an anxiety attack, breathing exercises can be a powerful tool to regain control and soothe your nervous system. Here are some breathing techniques specifically tailored for anxiety attacks:

Square breathing

Square breathing, also known as box breathing, is a simple yet effective method to manage anxiety attacks. It involves equal lengths of inhalation, holding the breath, exhalation, and holding again, creating a square of breath movement.

  • Sit or stand in a comfortable position.
  • Slowly inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, filling your lungs with air.
  • Hold your breath for 4 seconds, maintaining a calm and steady posture.
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth for 4 seconds, releasing all the air from your lungs.
  • Hold your breath again for 4 seconds before starting the cycle over.
  • Repeat this process for a few minutes until you feel your anxiety lessen.

Paced breathing

Paced breathing helps slow down breathing rate, which can be particularly useful during an anxiety attack when breathing may become rapid and shallow.

  • Find a comfortable seated position with your back straight.
  • Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose for 5 seconds, focusing on filling your lungs fully.
  • Exhale slowly and completely through your mouth for 5 seconds, trying to expel all the air from your lungs.
  • Continue this pattern, gradually trying to extend the length of each inhalation and exhalation as you become more comfortable, aiming for 7 to 8 seconds per breath.

Grounding breath technique

This technique combines deep breathing with a grounding exercise, which can be especially beneficial during an anxiety attack by diverting your mind from distressing thoughts and focusing on the present.

  • Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Close your eyes if it feels safe to do so.
  • Take a deep breath in through your nose for 4 seconds and feel the air entering your lungs.
  • Hold your breath for a moment, then exhale slowly through your mouth for 4 seconds.
  • As you breathe, focus on a specific object in your surroundings (if your eyes are open) or visualize a calming image (if your eyes are closed). Pay attention to its shape, color, texture, and any other details.
  • Continue breathing deeply and focusing on your chosen object or image for several minutes.

Implementing these techniques during moments of intense anxiety or panic can provide immediate relief and a sense of control. Practice these exercises regularly, not only during anxiety attacks but also as part of your daily routine, to improve their effectiveness and your overall well-being.

How to Get Professional Help for Anxiety

If you’re struggling with anxiety and find that self-help methods and breathing exercises aren’t enough, seek professional help.

First, consult your healthcare provider. Your physician can assess your symptoms, provide an initial diagnosis, and refer you to a mental health specialist if necessary. They can also discuss medication options if they believe these could help manage your symptoms.

Therapists and psychologists specialize in mental health and can offer various forms of therapy, such as CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), which is highly effective for treating anxiety disorders. You can find a therapist through recommendations from your doctor, local mental health services, or reputable online directories.

If your anxiety is severe or complicated by other mental health issues, a psychiatrist can offer a comprehensive treatment approach, including medication management and therapy. This may take place in an inpatient mental health rehab to provide the most structured setting. As long as inpatient care is deemed medically necessary, treatment costs should be covered with health insurance.

Many organizations offer online resources, including self-help tools, counseling services, and support groups. These can be a good starting point if you’re not ready for face-to-face therapy or while waiting for an appointment.

If you’re experiencing a crisis or severe anxiety attack, don’t hesitate to contact emergency services or a crisis hotline. These services provide immediate support and can guide you to the help you need. Seeking help is a sign of strength, and professional support can provide you with the tools and strategies to manage your anxiety effectively and improve your quality of life. If you require immersive and structured support, here’s how you can get help right away.

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Get Effective Treatment for Anxiety Disorders at Connections

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health conditions and are, thankfully, highly treatable.

Reach out to Connections Mental Health in Southern California for effective insurance-covered treatment in a safe, family-like environment.

When you choose inpatient treatment at our luxury beachside facility, you’ll join a small number of peers dealing with similar issues. The unique presentation of anxiety disorders means that treatment at Connections is highly personalized.

If you or a loved one need help overcoming a mental health disorder, call Connections at 844-759-0999.

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