Many people suffer from anxiety at some point in their lives. Whether it’s work stress, relationship issues or financial problems, there are many factors that contribute to an anxious mental state.
In fact, anxiety affects over 40 million adults in the US, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
When you’re having a tough time calming your mind, breathing exercises can be extremely effective. Here’s why: when you’re anxious, you take rapid shallow breaths, which disrupts oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the body. This is what causes dizziness, muscle tension and in severe cases, panic attacks.
By learning how to control your breath, you can relax your mind and body. These three breathing exercises are a great place to start:
1. Alternate nostril breathing
This is a yogic breath control practice is a form of pranayama designed to clear energy. It is believed that by clearing the passageways of the body, you make room for prana (life force) to move through.
How to do it:
- Find a comfortable place to sit. In terms of posture, make you’re your spine is lengthened and your chest is open.
- Place your left hand on your lap and raise your right hand. Rest the pointer and middle fingers of your right hand on your forehead, in between the eyebrows.
- Close your eyes. Then, slowly inhale and exhale through your nose.
- Using your right thumb, close the right nostril and inhale slowly through the left.
- Pinch your nose closed and pause.
- Using your right ring finger, close your left nostril and exhale through the right nostril.
- Pinch your nose again. Pause.
- Repeat this cycle of inhaling and exhaling up to 10 times. Each cycle should be approximately 40 seconds.
One of the biggest benefits of alternate nostril breathing is that it reduces stress. According to one study, people who used this breathing exercise had lower stress levels and better cardiovascular health.
This study lasted 12 weeks and alternate nostril breathing was shown to improve heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure.
2. Belly breathing
Rather than chest breathe (your body’s reaction to stress), breathe from your belly. Belly breathing is a deep breathing technique that engages your diaphragm. Inhaling and exhaling slowly allows your body to take in as much oxygen as possible.
There are two different ways to do this. And it’s simple!
How to do it:
- Sit in a chair and lean forward
- Place your elbows on your knees
- Breathe naturally
If you prefer to lie down:
- Lie on your back on a flat surface with your knees bent.
- Put one hand on your upper chest and the other on your belly.
- Inhale slowly through your nose, and feel the air fill your belly.
- As you exhale, tighten your stomach muscles and allow them to fall inward.
- Repeat for three to five minutes.
“Belly breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs from the head down the neck, through the chest, and to the colon,” Harvard Health reports. “This activates your relaxation response, reducing your heart rate and blood pressure and lowering stress levels.”
3. 4-7-8 breathing
Like alternate nostril breathing, 4-7-8 breathing is based on pranayama, making it an excellent exercise for cleansing energy and bringing the mind and body into balance. This breathing exercise was created by Dr. Andrew Weil, designed to help people gain control over their breathing.
How to do it:
- Part your lips.
- Make a whooshing sound, and exhale through your mouth.
- Close your lips, and inhale through your nose for 4 seconds.
- Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
- Make another whooshing sound, exhaling for eight seconds.
Some of the benefits include:
- Decreased fatigue
- Lower anxiety
- Reduced stress
- Improved migraine symptoms
Anxiety can lead to sleep deprivation. 4-7-8 breathing is also well-known for its’ ability to help people with insomnia. So, if you need help falling (and staying) asleep, give this breathing exercise a try!
The takeaway: when anxiety strikes, just breathe. Yes, it’s that simple.