Breathing Exercises For Anxiety 2023: Best Ways To Reduce Anxiety

Jennifer Olejarz

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Kathy Shattler, MS, RDN

breathing exercises for anxiety

Breathing exercises for anxiety are becoming more and more popular as a research[1] shows that slowing your breath calms your nervous system and increases emotional control. There are various types to choose from, making it easy to play around with different techniques to find which works best for you. 

Suffering from anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions[2] in the world. About 34% of adults[3] will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their life, but the numbers are growing. Since not everyone has access to therapy, focusing on self-care, such as breathing techniques, is one of the best and easiest tools available to help reduce stress and anxiety.

Best Ways To Reduce Anxiety 2023

  1. Humming Breath
  2. Belly Breath
  3. Box Breath
  4. 4-7-8 Breathing
  5. Alternate Nostril Breathing 
  6. Lion’s Breath

Breathing Exercises To Relieve Anxiety and Technique

These are some mindfulness breathing exercises for anxiety that help to reduce the frequency and length of panic attacks and anxiety symptoms[4]

Humming Breath

Humming creates a vibration in the body that calms the nervous system by stimulating the vagus nerve.[5] It’s often used in yogic meditations or singing, such as chanting the word “om” at the end of a yoga class. It helps to increase oxygen intake while calming the body. 

Here are the steps to follow for this deep breathing exercise technique: 

  1. Get into a comfortable seated position. 
  2. Place your hands on your lower abdomen and your tongue on the roof of your mouth, behind your upper teeth. 
  3. Close your mouth as you take a deep breath through the nose for five seconds or until full. 
  4. Keep your mouth closed and shoulders relaxed while you exhale and hum the sound hmmm until your breath ends. 
  5. Aim to repeat at least five times, stopping before ten or earlier if you get tired. 

Belly Breath

Belly or diaphragmatic breathing engages your diaphragm,[6] a muscle in your belly, helping you to breathe more calmly. This muscle can become trained to open your lungs more fully and allow breathing to become more efficient. It’s a great practice for lying down, such as right before bed, after yoga, or when you wake up in the morning. Take care not to fall asleep, as is easy to do when lying down.

  1. Sit or lie down and place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. 
  2. Begin to take a full and deep breath through your nose.
  3. As you gently breathe in, feel the air move through your nose and focus it into your abdomen rather than your upper chest, and let your stomach rise. 
  4. Exhale slowly through your mouth with pursed lips for at least four seconds, allowing your stomach to contract. 
  5. Repeat these deep breaths until you feel the need to rest and return to normal breathing. 

Box Breath

Box or four-square breathing involves counting to four to breathe in, four again to hold the air, another four to release, and the final four to hold your lungs empty. Try to repeat this pattern at least four times in a row or until you need a rest. You can perform this anywhere you feel comfortable, returning to it throughout the day whenever you feel tense or notice shallow breathing. 

4-7-8 Breathing

Also called the relaxing breath, this exercise focuses on a long exhale to help stimulate the calming parasympathetic nervous system. 

  1. Begin in a comfortable seated position or lie down once you’re comfortable with the practice. This means you have trained yourself not to fall asleep in the lying down position while doing your breathing exercises.
  2. Put the tip of your tongue behind your upper front teeth. 
  3. Open your mouth and exhale with a whoosh sound. 
  4. Close your mouth and inhale slowly through your nose, counting to four. 
  5. Hold your breath for seven counts. 
  6. Exhale through your mouth with the whooshing sound to the count of eight. 

Alternate Nostril Breathing 

Alternate nostril breathing, or Nadi Shodhana Pranayama in Sanskrit, is one of many yoga breathing exercises for anxiety disorders. It can help you feel more relaxed, reduce blood pressure, and increase your focus.[7] Since it involves quick breathing and stomach movement, it’s best to do it on an empty stomach and when you’re not congested or sick. 

  1. Sit comfortably on your bottom or knees
  2. Put your right thumb on your right nostril and inhale through the left. 
  3. Hold your breath while you release your right nostril and switch to close your left nostril with your ring or pinky finger. 
  4. Cover the left nostril, close your eyes, and exhale fully and slowly through your right nostril. 
  5. Inhale through your right, then switch again to cover your right nostril with your thumb, releasing and exhaling through your left nostril. 
  6. Keep switching back and forth until it becomes almost uncomfortable, and you’re ready to rest. 

You can perform this quickly or slowly or follow guided video practices on YouTube to try different rhythms. 

Lion’s Breath

Another yogic breathing exercise is called Lion’s breath or Simhasana in Sanskrit. It’s exactly as the name implies, where you open your mouth wide, stick out your tongue, and roar like a lion. It forces you to breathe deeply and helps relax the muscles in your jaw and face. Research shows it can help improve your heart function[8] and cognition.[9]

  1. This breathing exercise works best when sitting on your knees on the floor, with your hands resting comfortably on your knees. 
  2. Inhale slowly through your nose. 
  3. Open your mouth, stick out your tongue, and stretch it down towards your chin. 
  4. Exhale loudly with a haaa sound, letting all the air out of your lungs and through your mouth. 
  5. Breathe normally until you’re ready to begin again, stopping with a maximum of seven lion’s breaths. 

Symptoms Of An Anxiety Attack

If you’ve ever experienced an anxiety attack, you know the dread of worrying that it will happen again. With regular meditation, acceptance, and breathing exercises, however, you can reduce their length and frequency more easily. 

Here are some signs to watch out for[10] that mean it’s time to take a moment, turn inward, and focus on your inner power and breath.  

  • Feeling of detachment or change in reality. 
  • A sense of impending panic or doom.
  • Pain or tightness in the chest or throat.
  • Rapid and/or shallow breaths. 
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Trembling, shaking, tingling. 
  • Sweating, chills, or hot flashes. 
  • Gastrointestinal issues (frequent urination, diarrhea, nausea, cramps).
  • Headaches, dizziness, or feeling faint or lightheaded. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, know that you’re not alone, and help is always available. You can find a support group[11] or mental health professional to learn more tools and practices that may work best for you. 

Other Ways To Alleviate Anxiety

Breathing exercises are just one part of a healthy routine that works to alleviate anxiety. These are some other steps you can take: 

Regular Self-Care

Making the time to take care of your mind and body helps to relieve both anxiety and depression, such as

1. Move Your Body Daily

Movement releases tension and endorphins while regulating hormones, helping you to feel better throughout the day. Intense cardio[12] or dance therapy, for example, can release the extra adrenaline that leads to anxiety. If you’re feeling tired, something lighter, like yoga, can help you slow your breathing and reduce stress. Even a daily walk in the park can do wonders to regulate your sympathetic nervous system and breathing patterns. 

2. Add More Nutrient-Dense Foods

Along with taking a multivitamin, try adding at least one extra serving of vegetables and fruit, to your day until you reach about ten servings per day. Vitamins, minerals, and omega-3s all help to reduce anxiety and depression. Specifically, vitamin D and B vitamins, along with iron for women, help the brain and body to function better and regulate hormones. Slowly add more nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and plant-based proteins to your day.  

3. Go To Nature Regularly

The research on the effectiveness of regular time in nature for anxiety and depression is astounding. Humans were not meant to live in giant cities and skyscrapers, surrounded by overwhelming light, sound, and noise pollution. Spending as little as ten minutes a day[13]at your local park surrounded by green space is already enough to help lower cortisol levels. Aim for 120 minutes a week[14] in nature and add day trips for picnics or hikes a few times a month. 

4. Practice Stress-Relieving Activities

Quiet time for yourself, along with anything else that helps calm you, should be a part of your daily routine. This could be time spent doing yoga,  reading, meditating, or just listening to calming nature sounds for a while. 

Making time to meet people and make friends is also essential for reducing anxiety and depression. We are social beings, and it’s all too easy to get caught up in work and stressful activities that may cause you to avoid much-needed socializing. Friends and loved ones[15] lift us up, calm us down, and make us laugh. 

If you’re feeling lonely, try a support group[11] online or in person, or join some local clubs to meet people with similar interests, like a book club, language exchange group, or cooking class.  

5. Express Yourself Emotionally

Stuffing in emotions and withholding your body and mind from letting them out can cause intense anxiety and depression. If you’re not sure how to express yourself, begin with daily journaling[16] for about 10 to 20 minutes. Let whatever you’re thinking out, including rage, using 20 pages to write expletives if you need to. You can even safely burn the pages afterward for an added cathartic release.

6. Create A Sleep Routine

Not getting enough sleep disrupts hormones[17] and your circadian rhythm, leading to increased anxiety and depression. These hormones include melatonin, which affects sleep, cortisol or the stress hormone, and leptin and ghrelin — the hunger hormones. Aim to get at least thirty minutes to one hour of quiet time before bed, without any screens or fluorescent lighting. Try going to bed and simultaneously waking up at the same time, and ensure your bedroom and bedding are cool and comfortable.  

7. Reduce Coffee, Alcohol, Sugar, And Processed Foods

Certain foods are known to increase mental and physical health issues such as caffeine,[18] alcohol,[19] sugar,[20] and processed foods. Try slowly reducing the amount eaten, using apps focused on mental wellness and nutrition to help. You can also look for replacements, such as herbal teas, alcohol-free beverages, fruit, and all-natural desserts, and try new healthy and exciting recipes or restaurants.

Mindset Shifts

Along with a self-care routine, certain mindset shifts[21] can help reduce anxiety. Practicing mindfulness and accepting that many things are outside of our control and don’t go according to plan is one of them. Of course, it’s not easy to simply change the way you think and react to difficult situations, which is why a trained licensed professional or support group is helpful. 

Therapy

A therapist can teach you tools that work specifically for you to help you manage anxiety better.[22] You’ll also get something crucial; a positive support system and new perspectives that will make shifting old patterns of thought and behavior much easier. Waiting for things to get better isn’t the answer when it comes to your health; try reaching out to someone today

When To See A Doctor For Anxiety

If anxiety interferes with your daily life and you’re experiencing panic attacks, it’s best to visit a physician for a full medical check-up. Let them know about your symptoms so they can perform any extra tests necessary to rule out any underlying medical issues, including nutrient deficiencies or hormonal disorders. 

These are some of the signs that it’s time to see a doctor:

  • Difficulty sleeping, eating, or taking care of yourself. 
  • Inability to work or carry on with daily activities.
  • Withdrawing from others. Frequent panic attacks. 
  • Feeling out of control. 
  • Intense and irrational fears.
  • Constant worry.
  • Unable to relax.
  • Turning to drugs or alcohol.
  • Thinking of, or acting on, self-harm.
  • Suicidal thoughts.

A doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety medication. However, research shows[23] it works best when combined with regular talk therapy because the root issue still needs to be addressed. A therapist can help dive into the underlying patterns of thought and behavior that lead to anxiety while teaching you tools to manage them better. 

Final Thought

Mindful breathing exercises for anxiety and depression work to calm the body quickly and efficiently. With regular practice, they may also prevent future panic attacks from popping up more frequently. Aim to include at least a few minutes of these relaxation techniques daily, and use them whenever you feel panic or anxiety rising. 

You can also include other practices to help reduce the symptoms and severity of anxiety, such as adding more nutrient-dense foods, sleeping and moving your body regularly, and spending time in nature. Finally, it’s also important to see a doctor for a check-up to ensure there are no underlying medical issues. To move forward with new tools to manage stress and added support, a therapist and support group offer the best chance of long-term anxiety relief.  


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Jennifer Olejarz

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

Jennifer Olejarz is a Certified Nutritionist and Health Counselor specializing in binge and emotional eating, stress management, and mental health. She has almost a decade's worth of experience in the health and wellness field writing health articles, guides, and books, along with creating health and nutrition courses. She works one-to-one with private clients to build healthier lifestyle habits and end the lifelong battle of food guilt and diet frustrations. She has degrees in both Psychology and Nutrition from Western University, Canada.

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

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