Breathing Techniques to Reduce Anxiety

3 Unique Breathing Techniques to Reduce Anxiety

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Breathing could be one of the most counterintuitive subjects because we normally don’t think about it. Just like we don’t have to digest food voluntarily, breathing also keeps going on without our intervention. The occurrence of these processes can be credited to the autonomic nervous system. 

Regardless, it may not be exactly accurate to compare breathing with digesting food. Unlike digestion, which we cannot control, we can actually control our breathing using different techniques. What’s more interesting is that there are certain breathing techniques to reduce anxiety and also make us feel better.

The Importance of Proper Breathing

Every cell in our body is fueled by oxygen. From cognition to metabolism – correct breathing techniques improve mental capability, reduce cortisol level for better sleep, boost digestion, improve the body’s immune response, and reduce stress and anxiety.

Important of Breathing Techniques to Reduce Anxiety

Practicing correct breathing techniques has now become very crucial because of our digitally escapist society where stress is perpetual. However, we are unhappy with burn-out being a major syndrome. The 2021 UN’s World Happiness Report ranked India at 139 out of 149 countries in the Happiness Index, suggesting a high degree of the stressful life we live.

Signs of Poor Breathing

Working too hard to breathe suggests that one is not getting enough oxygen, indicating respiratory distress. It’s imperative to identify the common signs of poor breathing for early diagnosis. Below is the list of symptoms indicating that the person is working hard to breathe and may need help.

  • An increased number of breaths per minute indicates a person is having trouble breathing, and the body demands more oxygen.
  • A grunting sound while exhaling indicates that the body is trying to hold air in the lungs for it to stay open.
  • When the nose spreads open or flares while breathing, it may mean that the person is working hard to breathe.
  • At times, the chest sinks in or retracts below the neck or beneath the breastbone. This is when the person is trying to inhale more air into the lungs.
  • Sweating profusely on the head while the skin feels cool or slimy indicates an increased breathing rate.
  • When the air passage gets smaller or tighter, a wheezing sound can be heard while breathing, which is a clear indication of respiratory distress.

Well, there could be numerous reasons for respiratory distress, and one must know that poor breathing is a stress response and not a disease in itself. It’s the body’s response when confronted with danger, both internally or externally. However, the trouble begins when the response is constantly provoked and built up by our day-to-day incidents such as financial woes, job insecurities, air pollution, or relationships.

Signs of Poor Breathing

It’s wise to realize that we can never avoid all sources of stress; however, we can create healthier means to cope with it. We can adopt a relaxation response that can be elicited through mindfulness meditation, yoga, Tai chi, and Qi Gong, and progressive muscle relaxation.

Each relaxation response focuses on breathing, and adopting a corrective breathing technique to reduce anxiety can help turn down your stress response.

Types of Breathing Techniques to Reduce Anxiety

Here are a few breathing techniques anxiety can be coped with.

We can begin with just 5-mins a day and increase the time as we get comfortable. These breathing techniques to reduce anxiety and stress can be practiced multiple times a day or as one feels the need.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

This type of breathing strengthens the diaphragm and is sometimes called belly breathing or abdominal breathing. It has a number of benefits and has been proved to be one of the breathing techniques to reduce anxiety, stress, help cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), lower blood pressure, and irritable bowel syndrome.

How to Perform Diaphragmatic Breathing

  • Lie on your back with knees slightly bent and head on a pillow; for extra support, use a pillow under your knees
  • Sense the movement of the diaphragm by placing one hand on the chest and the other below the rib cage
  • Relax and inhale through the nose, feeling the stomach pressing through the hands
  • Keep the other hand still and exhale using pursed lips while tightening the stomach

Breath-Focus Technique

This is one of the breathing techniques to reduce the anxiety that is very common and uses affirmation, focus words, or phrases. The focus words could be anything that induces peace, relaxation, or any mantra. Practicing this breathing technique during pregnancy can help during childbirth and postpartum depression.

Breath-Focus Technique

How to Perform Breath-Focus Technique

  • Relax and sit comfortably or lie on a flat surface, bringing in the awareness to the breath without changing the pattern of breathing
  • Direct the attention to the breath and alternate between normal and deep breath
  • Note the difference between normal and deep breath and practice it a couple of times
  • Keep one hand on the belly button and just notice how it feels to breathe and let out a loud sign with each exhale
  • Combine this practice with affirmations, mantras or words that induce peace of mind and imagine that the air you exhale washes away the tension and anxiety

The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique

Introduced by Dr. Andrew Weil, the 4-7-8 is one of the breathing techniques to reduce the anxiety that combines the yogic practice of pranayama with mindfulness meditation, visualization, and guided imagery.

People with mild sleep disorders, anxiety, and stress can find this practice very useful.

How to Perform 4-7-8 Breathing Technique

  • Begin with sitting or lying down comfortably, then resting the tip of the tongue against the roof of the mouth behind the top front teeth
  • Try keeping the tongue still while exhaling
  • Then let the lips part and exhale completely through the mouth, making a whoosh sound
  • Close the lips and inhale silently and count to four
  • Hold the breath for seven seconds and make another whoosh sound for eight seconds and exhale

Once we inhale, the next cycle begins. This is one of the breathing techniques to reduce the anxiety that should be practiced in a relaxed setting and just be.


For a beginner, this might take a while to get a grip on. You can also try several relaxation techniques to identify which one of the breathing techniques to reduce anxiety works best or introduce some variety in your practice. However, dedication and creating a routine are vital to get the most benefit out of the breathing techniques. Discontinue the practice in case of any agitation and consult a medical consultant without delay.


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