Breathing Exercises to Reduce Anxiety

Jamie Price is a wellness expert and co-founder of Stop, Breathe & Think, an emotional wellness app that recommends short personalized meditations and breathing activities tuned to your emotions. In the third installment of a three-part series, Jamie shares breathing exercises you can do anytime to help connect your breath and mind and to reduce stress. (Read part 1 here and part 2 here.)

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If you feel anxious from time to time (or a lot of the time) you’re not alone. Study after study shows that anxiety affects many of us, and anxiety disorders are the most common mental issue among adults (about 40 million Americans over the age of 18.) (1)

Stress and anxiety are closely related. Anxiety can start with an uneasy thought or feeling (“I’m going to be late” or “I’m afraid to fail”) which triggers your body’s stress response. You may feel butterflies in your stomach, your heart beating faster, or your muscles tensing. Your initial physical reaction, in turn, gives rise to more anxious thoughts, which can set off even more physical reactions. By switching attention to something else, like deep relaxing breaths, you can take yourself out of this stressful loop by making an intentional choice about what you want to focus on – and the breath is a great place to start.

Most adults take shallow breaths into their chest, but we’re born naturally breathing deeply into our belly, which helps to calm the nervous system and decrease the body’s stress response. When your breathing is shallow and into your chest, your body’s natural ability to calm and restore itself is limited.

To tame anxiety, deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the PNS, which promotes calmness. It also deepens your connection to your body, which brings attention to your senses as opposed to the thoughts in your mind.

Deep Breathing
      • • Place one hand just below your belly button, and the other on your chest.

• Inhale slowly through your nose as you gently push your belly out. Pause, and slowly exhale through your mouth as you gently pull your belly in.

• Continue breathing this way for a few minutes, maintaining a relaxed and slow pace that feels natural to you.

It helps to pay attention to what triggers your stress response, and notice how you experience it in your body—rapid heart rate, tight, fast paced breathing, for example—so that the next time you face that situation, you can consciously connect to your breath and come back to center before anxiety gains too much momentum.

Read part 1 and part 2 in our series. For further reading, try these articles: My Mindset Is the Most Important Part of My Morning Routine, 5 Ways I Deal With My Anxiety, and Battling the Fears of Tearsy

(1) Anxiety And Depression Association Of America