3 easy breathing exercises that help reduce anxiety

Anxiety is a normal response to many of life's stresses and, along with being a warning that we are reaching our limit, can often motivate us to take action. Here are three simple breathing exercises you can do at home that help combat anxiety.

3 easy breathing exercises that help reduce anxiety

[Image credit: iStock.com/AntonioGuillem]

When anxiety becomes too common or occurs without good reason, it can be debilitating. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, anxiety disorders affect around five per cent of the population. Although prescribed medication can help, a variety of breathing exercises designed to induce states of relaxation can also help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety relatively quickly.

1. Hold your breath

Deep breathing is one of the most effective exercises to reduce anxiety, as it instantly oxygenates the blood and stills the mind.

  • When the panicky feelings of anxiety arise, simply begin to hold your breath after each inhale.
  • After inhaling fully, hold your breath for just a couple seconds and then exhale slowly and fully.

This helps stop the hyperventilation that's common when anxious feelings arise. It also slows down your pulse and thought process.

2. Resistance straw breathing

This simple technique uses an ordinary drinking straw to focus the person's breathing, which forces it to slow down.

  • When a person's breathing becomes rapid and the breaths more shallow (as anxiety starts to rise), simply putting a straw between the lips and drawing air through it causes an immediate slowing of the breathing cycle as intake of air is limited.
  • A straw is easily portable or readily available in most restaurants and cafes, so it's a convenient ally when combating anxiety.

When breathing through a straw using this technique, remember to take deep, slow breaths – which is the exact opposite of what happens to your breathing when under stress.

3. Breath moving

This simple exercise uses the imagination in tandem with breathing exercises to focus and calm the mind, which helps to reduce anxiety.

  • With each breath, simply imagine the air being funnelled into a specific part of your body, such as your head. Then, as you exhale slowly, through your nose, imagine it moving to another part of your body.

Of all the breathing exercises that combat anxiety, breath moving works the most directly on the mind by forcing it to concentrate on imagery. Combined with the deep breathing itself, this visualization often stops anxious thoughts from multiplying.

Anyone who is prone to anxiety will find these three techniques helpful in controlling how they respond to stressful situations. The key to making these techniques work is remember to relax, breathe deeply and concentrate on directing your mind elsewhere.

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