9 Breathing Techniques to Help Calm Stress and Physical Anxiety

Breathing difficulties are actually the root cause of the most common physical anxiety symptoms. Breathing difficulties can be in the form of:

  • Shallow breathing (breathing in too quickly),
  • Over-breathing (breathing in more air as we feel like we’re not getting enough, for example through yawning or sighing frequently).

When we have breathing difficulties, we lower the amount of carbon dioxide that’s normally in our blood. Although it often feels like we can’t get enough air, we’re actually getting too much! This is what leads to the wide range of symptoms, including:

  • Chest tightness,
  • Shortness of breath,
  • Heart pounding and racing,
  • Heart palpitations,
  • Butterflies in the stomach,
  • Sweating or hot flushes,
  • Tingling or numbness in the arms, fingers, toes, or around the mouth,
  • Feeling dizzy and light-headed,
  • Weakness,
  • Feeling sick,
  • Feelings of unreality (of the self and/or the world).



How to Test Your Breathing


  1. Put one hand on your chest, and one on your belly.
  2. Breathe for a few seconds. Which hand rises?
  3. If it’s your chest, you might have developed a habit of shallow- and/or over-breathing.

Cultivating the habit of belly breathing is a way to help correct our breathing and lessen these symptoms.

When we belly breathe, our stomach rises when we breathe in, rather than our chest. This might feel odd at first, but the more you do it, the more natural it'll feel.

We can practise regular breathing techniques to help speed up the process of improving our breathing.


To reduce stress and physical anxiety, you’ll need to commit to practicing breathing exercises on a regular basis.

Check out The Habit Planner and Tracker to discover and apply the four science-based steps of building habits that stick.



Table of Contents
1. The 4-2-6 Breathing Technique
2. The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique
3. The Alternative Nostril Breathing Technique
4. The Box Breathing Technique
5. The Balloon Visualisation Technique
6. The Equal Breathing Technique
7. The Pursed Lips Technique
8. The De-Stress Visualisation Technique
9. The Mindful Minute Breathing Exercise




1. The 4-2-6 Breathing Technique

  • Inhale deeply and slowly count to 4, expanding your belly as you do so,
  • Hold that breath for a count of 2,
  • Slowly exhale though your mouth for a count of 6,
  • Repeat for a few minutes.



 

2. The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique

  • Inhale deeply and slowly count to 4, expanding your belly as you do so,
  • Hold that breath for a count of 7,
  • Slowly exhale though your mouth for a count of 8,
  • Repeat for a few minutes.



 

3. The Alternative Nostril Breathing Technique

  • Hold the right thumb over the right nostril and inhale deeply through the left nostril.
  • At the peak of inhalation, close off the left nostril with the ring finger, then exhale through the right nostril.
  • Continue this alternation, inhaling through the right nostril, closing it off with the right thumb, and exhaling through the left nostril.



 

4. The Box Breathing Technique

  • Breathe in for 4 seconds,
  • Hold for 4 seconds,
  • Breathe out for 4 seconds,
  • Hold for 4 seconds,
  • Repeat for at least 4 cycles.
 


5. The Balloon Visualisation Technique

  • Inhale deeply, and as you expand your belly, imagine that it’s inflating like a balloon,
  • As you exhale, imagine that the balloon is slowly deflating,
  • Repeat for a few minutes.



 

6. The Equal Breathing Technique

  • Inhale deeply through your nose and slowly count to 4.
  • Hold for a count of 2,
  • Slowly exhale through your nose for a count of 4.



 

7. The Pursed Lips Technique

  • Inhale deeply through your nose and slowly count to four,
  • Hold for 2 seconds,
  • Slowly exhale through pursed lips—shaping them as though you were about to whistle or blow out a candle—for a count of six.



 

8. The De-Stress Visualisation Technique

  • Inhale deeply and slowly count to 4, rising your shoulders as you do,
  • Hold that breath for a count of 2,
  • Slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of 6, whilst dropping your shoulders and visualising stress being released from your body,
  • Repeat for a few minutes.
 


9. The Mindful Minute Breathing Technique

  • Set a timer for 1 minute whilst practising slow, deep breathing,
  • Count how many breaths you take,
  • When you feel overwhelmed, go somewhere you can't be disturbed (like the bathroom if you're at work) and take that number of breaths,
  • When you've finished, you'll have taken a mindful minute.
 
 
 
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