Though it’s unpleasant, feelings of anxiety are your body’s normal response to perceived danger and stress. However, when it begins to disrupt your everyday life, it can make it hard to do your best to maintain a sense of ease and contentment–especially when it’s time to relax and wind down. When anxiety becomes a familiar presence in your life, it can be hard to let go of your worries and calm your body and mind, and it may even feel like an uphill battle when it becomes truly overwhelming.
It is estimated that 40 million adults in the United States, or just under 20% of the population, live with an anxiety disorder, but even acute bouts of anxiety can be troublesome. Deep breathing exercises can help you to quiet your mind and soothe your body when you experience feelings of dread and apprehension.
Read on for several helpful breathing exercises you can use to manage the symptoms of your anxiety.
1. Mindful Diaphragmatic Breathing
If you’ve ever explored breathwork before, you have likely learned that the way your body typically breathes leans toward shallow, unconscious chest breathing patterns that function as maintenance breaths but don’t always adequately expand and collapse your lungs near their fullest potential. However, abdominal breathing utilizes less energy and increases the amount of oxygen that can enter your lungs, which is useful to help your body relax in times of stress.
To practice abdominal, also called diaphragmatic, breathing, place one of your hands on your chest and the other on your belly, inhale deeply through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. Notice which of your hands raises more than the other, and try to expand your belly more than your chest with each breath.
2. Belly Breathing
Another form of abdominal breathing, this breathing activity focuses on the expansion of your lower belly to ensure deep, even breaths that clear stagnant air from your lungs and allow fresh oxygen to enter your airways. Find a comfortable place to either sit or lie down. Place one hand on the space below your rib cage and the other on the upper part of your chest as you relax your shoulders and close your eyes.
Breathe in through your nose without engaging your stomach muscles, taking deep slow breaths that you imagine traveling toward your spine. On your exhale, part your lips slightly to allow the air to escape your mouth at a slightly slower rate than if your mouth was open. Experts recommend belly breathing for a duration of about five minutes, but those who practice belly breathing for up to 30 minutes a day reap noticeable anxiety-relieving benefits.
3. 4-7-8 Breathing
Deep breathing harnesses the power of your body’s innate biological stress-relief mechanisms. When your body is on high alert, your fight or flight system cannot discern whether you’re late for work or being chased by a predator. Your biology is designed to associate slow, tranquil breaths with safety and security, and the mindful timing of this breathing exercise can expedite the calming benefits of peaceful breath.
Touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth just behind your two front teeth and exhale the rest of your breath, making an audible whoosh noise. Close your mouth and inhale through your nose while you count to four, hold your breath in that state while you count to seven and exhale in the same manner as before while you count to eight. The more you practice these breaths, the more acquainted you will be with the steps and the more solidified this calming tool becomes in your anxiety toolbox.
4. Alternate-Nostril Breathing
This exercise requires you to block off the flow of oxygen in one nostril at a time, breathing in one nostril and breathing out the other. Find a comfortable position that enables you to sit up straight and move your right hand to your nose. Close your fist and release your thumb and ring finger, leaving the rest of your fingers tucked close to your palm. Close your eyes as you inhale through your left nostril, blocking off your right with your thumb. Before you exhale, release your thumb and use your ring finger to close your left nostril, comfortably letting go of all the air in your lungs. Keep your fingers where they are and inhale through your right nostril before blocking it off with your thumb to exhale through your left. Repeat at least ten times.
5. Box Breathing
Mindful and methodical breathing not only helps your body to relax, but it gives your mind something to focus on, too. Box breathing, also called four-square breathing, is named for its mindful inhales, held pauses and exhales all to a count of four. Rhythmic breathing is an excellent way to increase bodily awareness and slow down to minimize feelings of both mental and physical discomfort. To practice box breathing, exhale for four counts, pause with empty lungs for four counts, inhale for four counts and hold your breath at the top for four counts. Repeat for as long as is needed to feel more relaxed and at ease.
6. Lion’s Breathing
Yogic breathing practices such as this one have been used for centuries to alleviate stress, improve circulation and relax the muscles. Lion’s breath feels a little silly at first, but it is a powerful tool to ease tension and reduce anxiety with only a little effort.
Sit comfortably with your back straight, either on a chair or on your knees, then lean forward to place your hands on the floor or on your knees, spreading your fingers wide. Deeply inhale through your nose and, on your exhale, imagine a lion’s roar, opening your mouth wide, sticking your tongue out and reaching it down toward your chin. Your exhale should feel forceful and as though it comes from the back of your tongue, and your breath should be slightly audible as though you’re breathing out an extended short ‘a’ sound. Take a few normal breaths, and repeat this exercise up to seven times.
What is Your Next Step?
If you cannot seem to get to the bottom of what triggers your anxiety and sleepless nights, call Alaska Sleep Clinic today. We are the only sleep lab in the state with a Cognitive Behavior Therapist specializing in sleep medicine, Dr. Angie Randazzo. Watch Dr. Angie's KTUU "Moms Everyday" Segment on how stress affects sleep by clicking the video below.
We are ready to help you Improve Your Sleep and Improve Your Life.