Simple breathing techniques for anxiety

Paying attention to your breathing is one of the most fundamental ways to relieve anxiety and tension. 

Debra Stork, Chartered Physiotherapist and pilates instructor, outlines some simple ways to refocus your breathing to relieve anxiety and feel calmer.

Guided breathing and relaxation exercise video

In this video, Debra Stork guides you through a relaxation exercise to help release tension and ease anxiety. Sit comfortably, with both feet on the floor and rest your hands on your lap with your palms facing upwards. Close your eyes, if you wish, and enjoy this video.

Simple breathing techniques to release anxiety

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Sit comfortably with both feet on the floor, place one hand on your stomach and the other one on your chest. As you breathe normally, pay attention to which one raises and falls.

If it is your chest that is rising, it probably means your breath is more shallow (most of us do). This type of breathing can contribute to an increase in anxiety and tension.

Imagine now that you have a balloon in your stomach that you are trying to fill with air. As you take your next breath in through your nose, try to feel the breath of fresh air going all the way down into your stomach to fill the balloon and feel your stomach rise.  As you breathe out, imagine you are blowing out a candle and exhale through your mouth, allowing the stomach to relax.

When you breathe this way, your diaphragm, a dome-shaped muscle at the base of your chest, moves down and pushes your stomach out as you breathe in. Practise breathing deeply until your stomach rises consistently on the in-breath.

7/11 Breathing

Sit comfortably with both feet on the floor and begin diaphragmatic breathing (as above). 

  1. Breathe in for a count of 7
  2. Then breathe out for a count of 11

This exercise can be challenging to achieve straight away, so start with smaller counts. You could try breathing in for a count of 4 and breathing out for a count of 6. Increase the count as you get more practice. Repeat 3-4 times.

Square Breathing

Sit comfortably with both feet on the floor. Begin diaphragmatic breathing (as above). 

  1. Breathe in as you count to 4
  2. Hold your breath to the count of 4
  3. Breathe out to the count of 4
  4. Count to 4 before breathing in again

You may find it helpful to envision the four sides of a square and rest your gaze on each side for steps 1-4. Repeat this 3-4 times until your breathing feels calmer.

If you suffer from any breathing difficulties, please consult with your GP before undertaking any breathing exercises.

Debra Stork

Chartered Physiotherapist

Debra graduated from Brunel University in 1996. Currently her role at Horder Healthcare is the provision, growth and quality assurance of the Clinical Pilates services across all Horder Healthcare sites. She believes strongly in the importance of exercise to treat and prevent injury as well as promote general health and vitality.

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