Breathing away anxiety

When we over-breathe we take in too much oxygen and we breathe out too much carbon dioxide (CO2). We need CO2 to absorb oxygen into our bodies. We can’t release oxygen into our tissues without CO2, so the more we breathe the less oxygen we actually absorb into our bodies. Slowing down our breathing and breathing out more than breathing in increases our CO2 levels, allowing us to use the oxygen that we take in.

Signs that you are not breathing correctly include:


  • Breathing through your mouth, not your nose.
  • Your chest and shoulders moving when you are at rest, rather than your abdomen.
  • Regular urge to sigh or breathe in deeply.

Learning to breathe through your nose, not your mouth is central to ‘correct’ breathing.

Panic attacks

When we hyperventilate during a panic attack we breathe out too much CO2, stopping our bodies from absorbing oxygen and making us feel dizzy, faint, tight in the chest and numb in the limbs.

To help stop a panic attack close your mouth, pinch your nose and hold your breath for a few seconds. Resist the urge to gulp down air when you let go of your nose. Repeat until your breath has settled. Move about to help release the adrenaline that is in your body.

The paper bag method

You will need a paper bag; do not use a plastic bag. Take a long deep breath out and place the paper bag over your nose and mouth. Breathe gently in and out, re-breathing the used air in the bag, which is carbon dioxide rich. Re-breathing the used air will redress the imbalance of carbon dioxide in the blood and stop panic symptoms from developing further.

Buteyko method

This breathing method was designed to overcome asthma symptoms. If you are a habitual over-breather learning this method will correct your breathing in the long term. Find a practitioner on

The 7/11 (or 3/5) breathing method

Practise this exercise twice a day, starting at three minutes per practise session. You will eventually be able to do this exercise whilst watching TV, using the computer or other activities.

Sit comfortably in an upright chair or cross-legged on the floor. Sit upright as if a cord is attached to the top of your head, pulling your head upwards, stretching out your spine and opening your chest cavity. Face forwards and close your eyes. Become aware of your feet on the floor and your arms and legs where they are resting. Notice the sounds in the room.

Place both hands on your stomach slightly overlapping each other. Take a deep breath in for a count of seven (or three), counting one thousand, two thousand, three thousand. Your in breath should raise your hands on your stomach. When you get to three, hold your breath for a moment then slowly exhale for a count of 11 (or five). If you can’t breathe out for a count of 11 or five hold your breath until you finish counting, before breathing in again. Do this about 10 to 20 times, knowing that you will relax more with each breath.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Letchworth Garden City, Herts, SG6
Written by Julie Sale
Letchworth Garden City, Herts, SG6

Julie Sale is a UKCP Registered Psychotherapist and COSRT Accredited Sex and Relationship Psychotherapist. She co-Directs Local Counselling Centre a counselling service supporting the Herts, Beds and Bucks communities.


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