I went to the DMV last week…in conclusion, I decided to write this post. With the plethora of breathing exercises out there, I wanted to provide 5 quick options you can keep in your pocket for stressful or anxious situations because we all know they will arise… so lie down, relax and explore 5 breathing techniques for anxiety.
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What Is Anxiety?
You know that thing we all want to go away? Well, in a report titled “Living with Anxiety” from The Mental Health Foundation, anxiety’s “natural function is to alert us to potential threats, allowing us to evaluate and respond to them in appropriate ways.” This sounds very similar to how we judge others.
Does this mean anxiety isn’t necessarily a bad component, just a natural one?
Yes. Anxiety is a sense or reaction to a situation that feels dangerous/uncomfortable/unknown. Most of the functions that we have labeled (anxiety, stress, judgment, etc.) are there for survival purposes – to awaken our fight or flight mode. While anxiety can help assess uncomfortable situations, too much of a good thing isn’t good anymore.
Some people feel this sense so strongly that it moves away from alertness and into a normal routine. This is why these 5 easy breathing techniques for anxiety will calm the body and mind back into a state of awareness.
Here is a great book on the entanglements of anxiety disorder, written by a psychotherapist and the owner of Instagram’s largest anxiety community. They talk about living with severe anxiety and how they overcame it. This book reflects on the recovery process and is truly inspiring.
Untangle Your Anxiety by Joshua Fletcher and Dean Scott
What Are Classic Signs of Anxiety?
- rapid breathing
- feelings of danger
- intense anticipation
Breathing Techniques for Anxiety
- Box Breathing
- Belly Breathing
- Coherent Breathing
- The Exhale
These breathing exercises for anxious situations (like 4 hours at the DMV…) will help you gain control of your mind and body. Each scenario in which anxiety arises differs, but the practice of intentional calm will remain a constant resource. These exercises are also breath-based only; there are no additional physical components.
Let’s take a bigger breath and dive a little deeper!
Highly used by members of the military (talk about stressful situations), the box breathing method, or box count as I like to call it, is an exercise that distracts the mind by counting and in turn, tells the body to immediately calm down. It goes as follows:
- Breath in for 4 slow counts.
- Hold for 4 slow counts.
- Breath out for 4 slow counts.
- Hold for 4 slow counts.
As opposed to the chest, for clarification. Really though, if you haven’t practiced this deep breathing exercise, it can be very therapeutic. Because the mind is focused on the belly, it ceases to give in to the anxious situation.
- Put your right hand on your heart and your left gently over your belly.
- As you breathe in through your nose, fill your stomach instead of your chest (the right hand is there to ensure it stays put). Feel your stomach muscles tighten against the limit.
- Breathe out through your mouth until the belly is tight and flat.
This breathing technique has come in handy and was passed down by my brother. His doctor recommended it for high-stress situations and at the time, he was an avid athlete who put it to use before and during a game. You literally tell yourself to relax. Let me know if you’ve tried it!
- As you take a deep breath, say the letters “R” “E” in your head.
- Exhale the letters “L” “A” “X.”
- Repeat until you feel calmer.
Also called Resonance (I call it simple six), this method is easy and delivers.
- Lie on your back on a flat surface if possible and close your eyes.
- Gently inhale for 6 seconds.
- Exhale for 6 seconds.
- Repeat for up to 10 minutes.
By design of the diaphragm, exhaling is more important than inhaling. According to the movement and breathing specialist Betsy Polatin, “Without exhaling completely, excess carbon dioxide — a known stressor in your nervous system — may remain in your lungs. The system detects that there is too much carbon dioxide and not enough oxygen.” So while your lungs inhale more oxygen, there isn’t enough to fill due to the carbon dioxide already present.
When this happens try the exhale technique:
- Inhale for 4 counts.
- Exhale completely, to where there is nothing left.
Very Well Health explains that using deep breathing exercises promotes relaxation, reduces stress, stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, relieves insomnia, and helps bring someone into the present moment. Nurturing these breathing techniques for anxiety will do all of this and help you feel in control of stressful situations. Having motivational mottos is also a great tool!