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Breathing exercises for anxiety reduction and relaxation

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

1. Breathe in slowly and deeply, saying the word ‘ten’ to yourself (in your head), then slowly breathe out.

2. On the next inhalation, say ‘nine’, then slowly breathe out.

3. Continue with this, counting down eight, seven, six with each breath and so on.

4. As you reach zero, 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 light headed, 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 a positive affirmation to aid relaxation and reduce anxiety within the mind and body.

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

2. Sit in a comfortable position and take a few slow deep breaths.

3. As you breathe in, quietly say the first part of your affirmation to yourself (e.g. ‘I am’).

4. Pause for three seconds.

5. As you breathe out, quietly say the second part of your affirmation to yourself (e.g. ‘at peace’).

6. Repeat this cycle three times, and gradually relax your body, releasing tension.

The bumble bee 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!).

1. Sit down comfortably and relax your shoulders.

2. Narrow your airway slightly so that you can hear your breath coming in and out.

3. Cover your ears with your thumbs and cover your eyes with your fingers.

4. Keep your lips lightly closed and your teeth slightly apart, relax your jaw and breathe out slowly making a long low humming sound.

5. Repeat 5-10 times.

6. 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 increases mindfulness. Good for relaxation and anxiety/stress reduction

1. As you breathe in, imagine you are moving your breath from the core of your body to the top of your head.

2. Hold for a few seconds.

3. As you breathe out, imagine you are moving your breath deep down to the base of your spine, visualising the breathe on its way down.

4. Hold for a few seconds.

5. Each time you breathe in, move the breath to the top of the head.

6. Each time you breathe out, move the breath to the base of the spine.

7. Breathe in this circuit for ten 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.

1. Place your right thumb over your right nostril and breathe in deeply through your left nostril for a count of five or when you feel you have reached your peak inhalation.


2. Place your left ring finger over your left nostril, then remove right thumb, and exhale slowly out of right nostril for a count of five.


3. Keeping left nostril closed, inhale deeply through right nostril again for a count of five/peak inhalation, close off with right thumb, and remove left ring finger, to exhale through left nostril.

4. 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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Written by Anne-Marie Alger (Psychotherapist, Counsellor, Supervisor, MA, MBACP)

Experienced in online and telephone counselling. Anxiety, Health Anxiety, Depression, Relationship Issues, Grief and Loss, Individual and Couples Counselling.One in four of us experience mental health problems at some time in our lives. If you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, low in mood, having difficulty coping, having relationship issues, not knowing who you are anymore, then help is available… Read more

Written by Anne-Marie Alger (Psychotherapist, Counsellor, Supervisor, MA, MBACP)

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