• 02/05/2021

5 Breathing Exercises for Anxiety Relief

A woman with her eyes closed inhales deeply, practicing breathing exercises for anxiety.

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Anxiety is never a fun part of life, and it impacts people in all different ways. While some people have occasional bouts of situational anxiety and experience it as an emotion, others have a different experience of what it means to be anxious. Some people experience constant or consistent anxiety, and many people struggle with anxiety disorders that make anxiety a prevalent part of their life experience. Whether you have an anxiety disorder or you simply struggle with occasional anxiety, your mental health concerns and emotions are valid, and you are deserving of the coping and care you need. Breathing exercises for anxiety can help ground you and bring you back to earth easily.

One of the most effective, natural and accessible ways to cope with feelings of anxiety is to focus on the breath. Breath practice — or pranayama, as it’s referred to in yoga — is both a habit you can form that can show lasting effects on your overall state, and a tool you can use in the moment to alleviate the immediate feeling of anxiety coming on. While many people will tell you to simply take deep breaths or focus on the sound of your breathing, you might want a bit more action than that in your breathing practice. If you’re on the lookout for some breathing exercises you can keep in your back pocket, here are a few you can try out. 

1. Ujjayi Breath

A common yoga breathing technique, ujjayi breathing can help keep you calm and focused on the moment in front of you. This is also a great breathing technique if you tend not to be a fan of counting your breaths. Here is how you practice ujjayi breathing:

  • Inhale fully
  • Create a small constriction at the back of your throat
  • Exhale through the mouth or the nose, whichever is more comfortable
  • Make a slight sound on the exhale
  • Keep your exhale slow and steady
  • Repeat for several rounds

2. Four-Part Breath

If counting your breaths does make you feel a sense of calm, four-part breathing could be the perfect exercise. It’s simple and calming, and it gives you something to repeat and focus on. Four-part breathing is great to practice anywhere, as you can do it once or many times. Here is how you do it:

  • Exhale, emptying all of the air from your lungs comfortably
  • Inhale for a count of four
  • Hold for a count of four
  • Exhale for a count of four
  • Hold for a count of four
  • Repeat once, or as many times as you need to feel grounded

3. Deep Belly Breath

Here is another breathing exercise that does not require counting. If you prefer to focus on the sensations in your body as a metric for calming, deep belly breathing could be for you. Often used in yoga, this calming breath can help relax you and increase your overall breath quality. Here is how you practice deep belly breaths:

  • Place your hand on your belly or abdomen
  • Close your eyes and get settled wherever you are
  • On an inhale, feel your belly expand and your hand move with your breath
  • Exhale and feel your hand fall with your belly
  • Repeat and continue to notice the sensations in your belly and your hand

4. Elongated Exhale

Another of the counting breathing exercises for anxiety that can help to put your system at ease, doubling the exhale compared to the inhale can ease feelings of anxiety and give your mind something to focus on. You can also tailor the counts to what feels comfortable for you in your body if the counts in this template don’t quite fit. Here is how to do an elongated exhale:

  • Exhale all the air from your lungs and relax
  • Inhale for a count of three
  • Exhale for a count of six
  • Repeat that process with the counts of your choosing

5. Alternate Nostril Breathing

Here is one last yogic breathing technique that can help you relax and feel grounded in your body. Alternate nostril breathing engages your whole body in the breathing process and slows your system down to bring you to a state of rest. Here is how you can practice alternate nostril breathing:

  • Exhale and lift your hand to your nose
  • Press your thumb to one nostril and cycle through one inhale and exhale
  • Press your fingers to the other nostril and cycle through an inhale and exhale on that side
  • Repeat this for a few minutes until you feel relaxed

Breathing Exercises for Anxiety and Their Effects

Anxiety can feel big, but it doesn’t have to define you. If you’re struggling with anxiety — either occasional anxiety or an anxiety disorder — you can find ways to breathe through it and feel a bit calmer. You can try these breathing exercises for anxiety outside, where some of the sun’s warm rays can help combat the occurrence of anxiety attacks and may relieve some of your symptoms. Whether you prefer to count your breaths or focus on the body, there’s a breathing technique out there for you.

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