7 Breathing Exercises to Calm Anxiety & Come Back to the Present Moment

7 Breathing Exercises to Calm Anxiety & Come Back to the Present Moment

"When practiced regularly, breathwork can help individuals manage their anxiety levels and return to the present moment when racing thoughts and worries may be sending them into a spiral."

Breathwork to Calm Anxiety

When you’re feeling anxious, it’s not uncommon to experience shortness of breath along with other physiological symptoms like rapid heartbeat and sweating. But focusing on your breathing and learning how to master it can be extremely helpful during bouts of anxiety. Breathing calms the nervous system, quiets thoughts, and puts you in control of the moment.

Explore seven breathing exercises below and learn why breathwork works as an effective mindfulness technique for both adults and kids struggling with anxiety.

How Does Breathwork Help Ease Anxiety?

When practiced regularly, breathwork can help individuals manage their anxiety levels and return to the present moment when racing thoughts and worries may be sending them into a spiral. Here are some ways breathwork reduces anxiety and promotes relaxation:

  • Activates the parasympathetic nervous system: Breathwork activates the parasympathetic nervous system, specifically the vagus nerve, which calms the body’s fight-or-flight response.1
  • Reduces cortisol levels: Part of quieting the body’s fight-or-flight response is reducing levels of the hormone cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. At the same time, heart rate and blood pressure come down.
  • Increases oxygen flow: Breathwork also improves oxygen flow, helping to move stale air out of the lungs and oxygenate the brain.2 
  • Quiets the mind: Intentional breathing redirects your attention away from anxious thoughts and back to the present moment. This helps break the cycle of rumination.
  • Improves sleep: Studies show that slow, deep breathing results in melatonin production, which promotes relaxation and supports better sleep.3 Poor sleep is a contributing factor to anxiety.

Different Types of Breathing Exercises for Anxiety Relief

From diaphragmatic breathing to yogic breathing, explore seven types of breathing exercises you can use for anxiety relief. While these techniques are helpful when you’re feeling anxious, they should also be practiced regularly, even in non-anxious moments, to make them more effective.

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1. Mindful Breathing

Mindful breathing, also known as conscious breathing, is simple but powerful. All you have to do is focus your attention on your breath as you inhale and exhale. You can practice this while sitting, standing, or even lying down with eyes open or closed. You may notice when you first start this practice that your breathing is shallow. Do your best to deepen your breath, which becomes easier when you slow it down.

2. Diaphragmatic Breathing

Also known as belly breathing or abdominal breathing, diaphragmatic breathing teaches you how to use your diaphragm muscle correctly. The diaphragm is a large muscle located at the base of your lungs, which helps you breathe in and out. The Cleveland Clinic suggests first practicing this breathing exercise while lying down with your knees bent.4 With one hand on your chest and the other on your belly, slowly breathe in through your nose so that your belly expands. Then tighten your stomach muscles as you exhale through pursed lips. If you cannot lie down, you can use this exercise while sitting.

3. Deep Hold Breathing

Some breathing exercises entail holding your breath for several seconds as part of your regular relaxation practice. This is thought to support the cardiovascular system and may even lower inflammation.5 Try taking a deep breath and holding for five seconds and then release. Gradually hold the breath longer, but do not exceed 20 seconds. This is one way to bring attention to your breath and quiet racing thoughts. If you tend to feel dizzy or weak for any reason, this practice may not be for you.

4. Box Breathing

In the same way that a box has four sides, box breathing involves four counts of breathing in, four counts of holding your breath, four counts of exhaling, and four more counts of holding after your exhale. All inhales and exhales should be slow, deep, and measured. As you breathe, imagine you are making your way around a box and feel stress melt away.

5. 4-7-8 Breathing 

To perform the 4-7-8 breathing exercise, breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and exhale for eight seconds. The repetitive counting sequence of the 4-7-8 technique provides a calming distraction to your anxious mind and ultimately trains your body to better respond to stress if practiced regularly.

6. Alternate Nostril Breathing

Alternate nostril breathing is commonly used in a yoga or meditation practice. There are a few different ways to practice it. You can consciously inhale in one nostril while holding the other one closed, and then switch nostrils on the exhale. You can also hold your breath for a few seconds with both nostrils sealed off before exhaling. Nostril breathing has been shown to lower stress while improving pulse and blood pressure biomarkers and respiratory endurance.6

7. Yogic Breathing

Also known as pranayama breathing, yogic breathing links your breath to movement. One of the most popular yogic breathing exercises is the three-part breath. It entails the following:

  • The first step is simply observing your natural breathing cycle and starting to lengthen the inhale and exhale. 
  • Step two is filling the belly up with air; when you feel like you’ve inhaled as much as you can, inhale a little more breath and let that air expand into the rib cage. Then let the air go completely while the navel sinks back to the spine.
  • The last step is filling the chest with air. Fill the belly and rib cage up with air as you did before and then breathe in just a little more air to let it fill your chest, causing your chest and heart to expand and rise. When you exhale, let the breath go starting with the chest and then moving down through the ribs and finally exhaling fully from the belly.

Combining Breathing Techniques with OTC Anxiety Medicine

Breathwork is just one tool of many that you can use to quell anxiety and change your response to stress. Making other lifestyle changes, like those listed in Brillia’s 5 Pillars, can also make a significant impact in how often you get anxious and the intensity of these episodes. These habits include following a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep, controlling screen time, and practicing mindfulness. This holistic approach allows you to address anxiety from multiple angles and provides a foundation of support you can use well into the future.

If you need more support, consider trying a non-prescription medication like Brillia. Free from harsh, synthetic chemicals and harmful side effects, Brillia is clinically proven to reduce symptoms like anxiety, restlessness, impulsivity, and irritability by targeting the brain-specific S100B protein, a key regulator of various intracellular and extracellular brain processes, including communication between neurons.   

Unlike prescription medications commonly used to treat anxiety, Brillia will not make you drowsy, cause headaches, affect the appetite, or mask the personality in any way. It is also not a quick fix for anxiety. As a gentle and cumulative product, Brillia should be used consistently as part of a larger holistic approach for long-term success. 

Brillia comes in two formulations: Brillia for Children & Teens and Brillia for Adults. Find out more about how our holistic plan works and find more resources on how to reduce anxiety through behavioral change at the Brillia(nce) Resource Center

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References: 1https://www.utoledo.edu/studentaffairs/counseling/anxietytoolbox/breathingandrelaxation.html, 2https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-does-breathing-affect-your-brain-180980950/, 3https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6361823/, 4https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/9445-diaphragmatic-breathing, 5https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/is-it-safe-to-hold-your-breath, 6https://www.healthline.com/health/alternate-nostril-breathing
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