Breathwork Helps Reduce Anxiety

You breathe on average 20,000 breaths a day, but not every breath is equal. Some breaths might be short and quick, actually contributing to stress in your body. Long, deep breaths help to regulate your body and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.

What Is Breathwork?

Breathwork is an active form of meditation in which you manipulate your breath to change the way you feel.

When you are anxious, you tend to take shallow, rapid breaths from your chest, and you may even start to hyperventilate. This increases your heart rate and creates muscle tension. Your sympathetic nervous system becomes activated. A surge of adrenaline and cortisol puts your entire body on alert. Poor breathing creates an imbalance in the oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange, which can contribute to anxiety, panic attacks, and fatigue.

When you shift your breathing to abdominal breathing (using your diaphragm), your body enters into a relaxed state. Your parasympathetic nervous system is activated. Your heart rate slows, which helps to reduce the feelings of anxiety. Having a daily practice of active breathing is an important component to reducing anxiety.

3 Breathwork Exercises to Help Reduce Anxiety

Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Relaxing your body helps to calm your mind from those anxious thoughts. It also helps to remind you what it feels like to feel relaxed. During this exercise, you’re going to isolate different muscles from your feet to your head.

  1. Lie on your back.
  2. Inhale and tighten your feet while holding your breath for 5–10 seconds.
  3. Exhale and let go.
  4. Notice the feeling of relaxation as you take a few normal breaths.
  5. Inhale and tense the next body part, your legs. Hold your breath for 5–10 seconds.
  6. Exhale and let go.
  7. Notice the feeling of relaxation as you take a few normal breaths.
  8. Continue focusing in on each body part, tensing and letting go, until you get up to your head. (Tense your stomach, back, arms, neck, face.)
  9. Notice the relaxation after you exhale.
  10. Inhale and tense your whole body, holding for 5–10 seconds.
  11. Exhale and let go of any tension.
  12. Notice the feeling of total body relaxation.

Diaphragmatic Breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, taking your body from the fight-or-flight response into the rest-and-digest phase. It reduces the stress hormone cortisol, slows down your heart rate, and helps you start to feel grounded and clear headed. This technique helps you respond instead of react to a stressful situation.

You can do this practice sitting or lying down. Roll back your shoulders; get into a comfortable position. If you’re new to this practice, place a hand on your stomach. Take a slow deep breath from your belly using your nose. You should feel your hand moving as your belly expands with air. Slowly exhale out of your mouth.

Repeat the above at least five times or until you feel more relaxed and calmer.

Box Breathing
Box breathing is a technique used by Navy SEALs, ER nurses, and anyone who is looking to quiet their busy mind and get focused. It helps to calm the body and mind and alleviate stress. As you are breathing, you can imagine the shape of a box or square, counting to four and drawing each side of the box as you count.

  1. Inhale through your nose for a count of four.
  2. Hold your breath for a count of four.
  3. Exhale for a count of four.
  4. Hold your breath for a count of four.
  5. Inhale and tense the next body part, your legs. Hold your breath for 5–10 seconds.
  6. Slowly exhale. Repeat until you feel calm and clear.