Breathing Exercises to Reduce Anxiety and Stress [Start with these Top 7 techniques]
As businesses around the globe consider telecommuting, more and more employees are experiencing working from their homes for the first time. For remote workers, the change in the labor atmosphere is not too overwhelming. However, for those who are used to working in the office, they’re quickly learning that the experience is not all butterflies and rainbows.
Yes, you can work in your jammies all day. Yes, you can go a week without taking a bath or brushing your teeth. However, with everything cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, your stress levels may reach an all-time high. Project deadlines are piling up, and the kids are around with nothing to do but create a ruckus around the house. Of course, there’s also the looming thought that things can get worse.
However, when things get rough, you need to learn how to relax. You will discover that sometimes, breathing is the first step to relieving your anxiety. When you keep all that carbon dioxide bottled up in your lungs and abdomen, you’re more prone to fatigue and emotional disturbances.
How Improper Breathing Can Contribute to Panic and Anxiety
Since breathing comes to us naturally, we don’t pay too much attention to it. Most people do not even care about the fact that there are two types of breathing—chest breathing and abdominal breathing.
When a person becomes anxious, they start to take shallow and rapid breaths, coming directly from their chest. Chest breathing, also referred to as thoracic breathing, may cause an imbalance in the carbon dioxide and oxygen levels in the body. Consequently, the person will experience dizziness, an increased heart rate, muscle tension, and other uncomfortable sensations in their body. Since the blood doesn’t get the right oxygen levels, it signals a stress response that may lead to panic or anxiety attacks.
This is also the reason why proper breathing exercises are important to a person’s mental health. While your work productivity is essential, it is also crucial to take care of your overall well-being. What’s great about breathing exercises is that most of them take a few minutes to do. If you’re worried about the activity distracting you from doing your job, you can use a time tracking app like Traqq. With this tool, you can monitor the time you spend on apps, tasks, and activities. As such, you’ll still be able to maintain a work and life balance.
One of the best relaxing techniques for stress is abdominal breathing. It’s worth noting that newborn babies naturally breathe this way. Once you start to feel anxious, you should try some relaxation techniques that involve even, deep breaths. Here are some stress relief techniques that you can do at any point of the day:
1# Abdominal Breathing
Your diaphragm is a muscle that sits below your lungs. When you breathe from it, you reducing the work that your body exerts. Here are some abdominal relaxation exercises you can do:
First Phase: Self-Awareness
- The first thing you need to do is make sure you are comfortable. You can either lie on your bed or the floor, resting your head and knees on pillows. You can also sit on a chair, ensuring that your neck, head, shoulders are relaxed while your knees are bent.
- Place one hand over your heart, then the other one below your rib cage.
- Breathe in and out through your nose, then notice whether your chest or stomach is moving when you breathe.
- Try isolating your breathing to bring air deeper into your lungs. After a few breaths, try breathing deeper into your stomach.
- After a few repetitions, you will notice that you’re breathing instinctively through your abdomen.
Second Phase: Abdominal Breathing
- Lie down or sit comfortably as prescribed in the guide above.
- Now, place one hand on your belly, somewhere above your navel. Place the other hand on your chest.
- Inhale through your nose and notice your abdomen rising. Keep your chest still while you’re breathing in.
- This time, you need to purse your lips and breathe out through your mouth. Push all the air out at the end of every breath, ensuring that all your abdominal muscles are engaged in the process.
If you want this type of breathing to become instinctive during your meditative relaxation, you should practice it every day. If you have the time, repeat the steps at least three times a day for up to ten minutes. Keep in mind that the first time you perform these relaxing moves, you may feel a bit tired. However, things will get easier as you practice every day.
2# Prolonged Exhaling
At times, you may find that deep inhaling is not enough to calm you down. In this case, you may discover that prolonged exhaling can be one of the most effective relaxation techniques for anxiety. It’s worth noting that deep breaths are connected to the sympathetic nervous system, which influences your flight-or-fight response. Meanwhile, exhaling is connected to your parasympathetic nervous system, which affects your body’s ability to calm down and relax.
When you take rapid, shallow breaths, you will end up hyperventilating. Consequently, your brain won’t get the right amount of oxygen-rich blood. When you’re under stress or when you feel anxious, you naturally breathe too much. To alleviate this, we recommend following the steps below:
- Before taking a deep, big breath, thoroughly exhale first.
- Make sure you push all the air out of your lungs, then let them naturally inhale as much air they need.
- Now, spend more time inhaling than exhaling. Breathe in for four seconds, then breathe out for six.
Perform the steps for three to five minutes. Make sure you are sitting or lying down comfortably.
3# Meditative Breathing
One of the effective stress reduction techniques is meditative breathing. It can slow down your thoughts, which helps reduce your anxiety. Make sure you are sitting or lying down comfortably, then follow the steps below:
- Scan your entire body mentally. Become aware of every part of your body from head to feet. Once you do this, you will feel the tension in parts that you normally would ignore.
- Inhale through your nose deeply and slowly.
- Notice your belly and upper body expanding.
- Comfortably breathe out the way you prefer to. If you wish, you can also sigh out.
- After a few repetitions, exhale while softly saying the words “calm” and “safe”.
- Picture your breaths like gentle waves that come in and out of your body.
- Picture yourself exhaling every upsetting and negative thought. Imagine the bad energy flowing away from you.
Perform these relaxing moves for up to 20 minutes every day.
4# Balanced Breathing
Originating from the ancient pranayama yoga, balanced breathing can improve your respiratory and circulatory systems while tranquilizing your mind. Its stress relief techniques involve using the same amount of time for inhaling and exhaling. To perform this exercise, you need to sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Once you’ve done that, you can proceed to these steps:
- Close your eyes and notice your natural breathing for a minute.
- Slowly count to four as you breathe in through your nose.
- Breathe out for four seconds.
- As you’re inhaling and exhaling, notice how your lungs become full and empty.
- You can vary the second count, but make sure you inhale and exhale with the same amount of time.
5# Forceful Exhaling
Also known as lion’s breath, forceful exhaling will stretch the muscles in your face, relieving the tightness and tension. It helps ease your mind while boosting your confidence. Here are the steps:
- Kneel and rest your buttocks on the bottom of your feet. If you don’t feel comfortable in this position, sit on the floor with your legs crossed.
- Place your hands on your knees while ensuring that your arms and fingers are stretched.
- Inhale deeply through your nose.
- Exhale through your mouth while vocalizing “ha.”
- While you’re breathing out, make sure you open your mouth widely while sticking out your tongue. Try to stretch your tongue to your chin as far as you can.
- While you’re exhaling, focus your energy on the middle of your forehead.
- As you inhale again, relax your face.
Repeat the steps up to six times.
6# Alternate Nostril Breathing
If you feel like you’re about to chew your furniture because of anxiety, try alternate nostril breathing. This exercise can relax your mind and body while promoting your overall well-being. To begin, follow the steps below:
- Close your right nostril, using your right thumb.
- Breathe in slowly through your left nostril.
- Pinch both nostrils closed, using your right thumb and ring finger.
- Hold your breath for a second.
- With your right ring finger still pinching your left nostril, let go of your right nostril.
- Breathe out through your right nostril, then wait for a second before you move to the next step.
- Breathe in slowly through your right nostril.
- Pinch both nostrils closed again, then wait for a second.
- Open the left nostril, then breathe out.
- Wait for a second before you breathe in again.
- Repeat the cycle ten times.
7# Coherent Breathing
Also known as resonant breathing, coherent breathing can get you in a relaxed state when you’re feeling anxious. You can try it by following these instructions:
- Lie down in a comfortable position, then close your eyes.
- Inhale gently through your nose while your mouth is closed. Breathe in for six seconds and make sure you do not fill your lungs completely.
- Breathe out gently for six seconds.
- Repeat the cycle for about ten minutes.
Whenever you’re having panic or anxiety attacks, try using one or more of these relaxation techniques. Observe yourself and see if the exercises can keep you calm. However, if you feel like your anxiety is getting worse, it is best that you schedule an appointment with a doctor. Rest easy knowing that with the right approach, you will regain your control over your mental health. So, make it a habit to include breathing exercises as an activity entry when you use a task tracking app like Traqq!