Updated: Aug 22
Last week we talked about how one of the best things you can do when you experience anxiety is to take a deep breath. Today we want to expand on this idea and go over some simple breathing exercises. They are easy to do and can be done anytime, anywhere, which makes them a great tool for your tool-belt.
When you become anxious about something, the first thing that happens physically is that your heart rate increases. You can become panicked, which can make it harder to focus, difficult to breathe, and feel impossible to calm down. Breathing techniques work in several ways. They help you take a moment, refocus, and eventually calm down. By slowing and calming your breaths, you can help lower your heart rate to a reasonable level, and ultimately lower your blood pressure as well.
Once you get your breathing under control, you are able to calm down and figure out what steps to take next. By paying attention to your breaths, you help calm down your nervous system. That is why these simple exercises work so well and are worth trying.
While none of the breathing exercises that we are about to share are complicated, the simplest one is breath counting. Take slow breaths, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Start counting each breath out. Once you get to twenty, you should feel calmer.
Box Breathing A technique we use regularly is called box breathing. Picture tracing a box in your mind while taking deep breaths in and out. You can even use your finger to trace a box as you take your breaths to help you focus more and take your mind off of what is creating anxiety for you at that moment. You breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, breathe it out for four more seconds, hold again for four, and then start over until you feel your heart rate regulating.
Breathing Rhythm Another good exercise is to find a calm, breathing rhythm. Start by breathing in through your nose for four seconds. Hold your breath for two seconds, then slowly exhale through the mouth for six seconds. After a minute two, you should start to feel calmer. Keeping this steady, slow rhythm of breathing, you will notice your stress and anxiety melt away.
Breath walking may be new to you, but it can help promote ease. The concept here is to go on a walk, out in nature each day, even for a few minutes. Getting out and away from stressors can be just what our brain needs sometimes. Step out into nature with no electronics. Turn off music, set your ringer on silent, and walk, paying attention to the world around you. Concentrate on your breath as you move and walk. Work to calm any fast-paced or out of rhythm breathing. Notice the sounds and nature around you, and let go of the stress of the day through your breath. You will find yourself healthier and happier at the end of the walk, and as the walk progresses.
Abdominal Breathing Another great technique, if you have the opportunity to sit or lay down, is to practice abdominal breathing. Find a comfortable spot, relax, and place one hand on your stomach. Breathe in and focus your mind on the feeling of your stomach rising. Slowly breathe back out and pay attention to how your hand lowers again. Keep your breathes slow and steady, focusing your mind on your abdomen. You can even teach this practice to your kids by putting a stuffed animal on their stomach and asking them to slowing make the animal go up and down by breathing slowly, in and out. If lying down isn't an option, you can focus your mind on how the air feels flowing in through your nose and out through your mouth.
It is helpful to practice these breathing techniques before you find yourself in stressful or anxious situations. Make it a habit to practice them daily, so you're comfortable with the exercises when you need them. Practice and then implement any of these techniques whenever you feel anxious. They are a great way to calm down almost instantly. They can also be helpful when you are having a hard time falling asleep. Practice your breathing exercises in bed, and it won't take long before you start drifting off to sleep.
As you start putting these daily breathing practices into your life, you will begin to notice a change for the better. Feeling more confident in your ability to calm your anxiety can be motivating and encouraging. Start slow and let the process work. It's all about allowing the process to develop in your life at your own pace.