5 breathing exercises to reduce anxiety

Here are 5 common breathing exercises that can help to manage the physiological sensations and emotional feelings of anxiety, helping you to focus and relax or re-energise. Each technique is slightly different, and each one may take some practice in order for you to use it effectively, so keep trying. Find the one that works best for you.

Ten to zero

The 10-0 technique helps you to feel more relaxed and can reduce the feelings of anxiety and tension within the body, by counting down slowly from 10 to 0. This is a great technique for when you only have a couple of minutes to yourself (and one you can do anywhere).

  • Breathe in deeply, saying the word ‘10’ to yourself, then slowly breathe out.
  • On the next inhalation, say ‘9’, then slowly breathe out.
  • Continue with this, counting down 8, 7, 6 with each breath and so on.
  • As you reach 0, you should feel more relaxed. If you don’t, or there is only a slight difference in the way that you feel, go through the exercise again.

If you find yourself getting lightheaded, count down more slowly, spacing the breaths further apart.

Positive affirmation and deep breathing

This technique is easy to achieve in 60 seconds. It uses deep breathing and positive affirmation to aid relaxation and reduce anxiety within the mind and body.

Choose your own affirmation to use within this exercise such as ‘I am at peace', ‘I am relaxed’, or ‘I am in control’.

  • Sit in a comfortable position and take a few slow deep breaths.
  • As you breathe in, quietly say the first part of your affirmation to yourself (e.g. ‘I am...’).
  • Pause for 3 seconds.
  • As you breathe out, quietly say the second part of your affirmation to yourself (e.g. ‘...at peace’).
  • Repeat this cycle 3 times, and gradually relax your body, releasing tension.

The bumblebee breath

This very old technique is great for calming the mind and reducing stress and anxiety. This is one to potentially do by yourself though because, as the title suggests, you will be making some noise (and you also might look a little peculiar!).

  • Sit down comfortably and relax your shoulders.
  • Narrow your airway slightly so that you can hear your breath coming in and out.
  • Cover your ears with your thumbs and cover your eyes with your fingers.
  • Keep your lips lightly closed and your teeth slightly apart, relax your jaw and breathe out slowly making a long low humming sound.
  • Repeat 5-10 times.

As you start to feel less anxious and more relaxed, sit with some long slow breaths, and enjoy a sense of peace.

Breath moving

Breath moving is when the breath moves courtesy of your imagination, by sending the breath ‘on a journey around the body’. This technique helps to calm the breathing and reduce the heart rate, increase oxygen flow, allow you to become more aware of your surroundings and increase mindfulness. It's a great technique for improving relaxation and reducing feelings of anxiety/stress.

  • As you breathe in, imagine you are moving your breath from the core of your body to the top of your head.
  • Hold for a few seconds.
  • As you breathe out, imagine you are moving your breath deep down to the base of your spine, visualising the breath on its way down.
  • Hold for a few seconds.
  • Each time you breathe in, move the breath to the top of the head.
  • Each time you breathe out, move the breath to the base of the spine.
  • Breath in this circuit for 10 cycles.

Alternate nostril breathing

This technique is a little complicated at first, it takes some concentration until you get into the pattern. This can help to promote a sense of calm, mindfulness, and reduce that sense of anxiety bubbling away inside.

  • Place your right thumb over your right nostril and breathe in deeply through your left nostril for a count of 5 or when you feel you have reached your peak inhalation.
  • Place your left ring finger over your left nostril, then remove the right thumb, and exhale slowly out of your right nostril for a count of 5.
  • Keeping left nostril closed, inhale deeply through right nostril again for a count of 5 or peak inhalation, close off with right thumb, and remove left ring finger to exhale through the left nostril.
  • Continue this cycle for up to 10 minutes.

I would be delighted to hear about how you found these exercises, and whether you have your own effective breathing techniques to reduce anxiety and increase relaxation. Sharing is good!

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Heaton, Bolton, Greater Manchester, BL1 5LW

Written by Anne-Marie Alger

Heaton, Bolton, Greater Manchester, BL1 5LW

Anne-Marie is an integrative psychotherapist providing individual and relationship counselling. Based in Bolton, offering face-to-face and on-line counselling sessions.

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