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Breathing Techniques for Anxiety

Updated: Jun 26, 2023

Following the rhythm of your breath and noticing its movement in your body is one of the simplest and most effective meditation techniques to learn. Focussing on our breathing, grounds us in the present moment and takes our attention away from distracting or overwhelming thoughts and emotions related to the past or the future. This helps reduce anxiety and increase focus and clarity.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

(also known as belly breathing, nasal breathing or mindful breathing)

When people feel stressed, worried, panicky or fearful, their breathing tends to be short, shallow, quick, and in and out through the mouth.

Whereas, breathing in and out through the nose, lowers the heart rate, reducing feelings of anxiety and leading the body into a state of relaxation and recovery.

When you practise breathing in through the nose, on each in-breath, the lungs expand, pushing the diaphragm down and the belly out. The benefits of this are:

  • More efficient oxygenation - as you are engaging the bottom part of the lungs where about two-thirds of the gas exchange occurs.

  • Muscle relaxation - as you are not using your neck and shoulders to breathe, these areas have less tension.

  • Reduced heart rate - rebalances the autonomic nervous system (from sympathetic, i.e. fight or flight to parasympathetic, i.e. calm and relaxation).

  • Assisted lymphatic drainage and digestion - as the abdominal muscles are gently massaged.

  • Improved posture and core strength.

Anchor Points

There are three parts of your body where you may notice movement during each breath when you breathe in and out through the nose:

  1. Nostrils – the feel of the air flowing in and out (you may notice it’s cool as you breathe in and warm as you breathe out).

  2. Chest – gently rises with each in-breath and lowers with each out-breath (not enough to make your shoulders move).

  3. Belly – expanding like a balloon on the in-breath and deflating on the out-breath.

One of these three sensations will be stronger for you than the other two. Choose this as your anchor point to focus on when practising mindful breathing.

How to Practise Mindful Breathing

  1. Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor or lay down on your back on the floor or your bed.

  2. Keep your spine in a neutral position and shoulders relaxed if sitting. If laying down, keep your body symmetrical, i.e. legs uncrossed.

  3. Place one hand on your chest and the other one on your belly.

  4. Relax the muscles in your jaw, forehead and around your eyes.

  5. If you feel comfortable, close down your eyes.

  6. Take a breath in through your nose and out through your mouth, allowing your body to settle.

  7. Begin breathing in and out through your nostrils, at your own pace, finding your natural rhythm.

  8. Begin noticing the sensation of the air moving in and out of your body:

    1. The feel of the air as it flows in and out of your nostrils;

    2. The gentle rise and fall of your chest;

    3. The expanding and contracting of your tummy.

  9. Notice which one feels the strongest sensation to you (this will be your anchor point) then focus all your attention on it and the movement it makes with each breath.

  10. If your mind begins to wander, gently bring your attention back with the next breath to your anchor point (i.e. nostrils, chest or belly).

If you'd like to watch a demonstration on how to practise diaphragmatic breathing click on the button below.


If you would like some more Breathing Techniques for Anxiety:

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