Life is stressful — and even the most charmed lives can be plagued by anxiety, because the truth is, anxiety does not discriminate. We all have different ways of dealing with anxiety, but some moments literally take our breath away with worry, and can be a bit overwhelming. To help get through these times, one useful tactic is breath work, which is deep, intentional breathing that can help us manage overly stressful moments. There are so many ways to calm a racing mind, but here are 6 fundamental breathing techniques to do whether you’re home or out in public and need a little extra stability.
1. For Starting the Day: 4-Second Nose Breathing
You cannot keep all anxiety at bay, but it is possible to start the day off on the right foot. Taking 10 to 15 minutes in the morning to do focused “4-second” breathing can really help calm the mind and prepare you to focus. Get into a comfortable position, and sink into a relaxed state. Then simply breathe in the nose for four seconds and out the nose for four seconds. Breathe deep so you see expansion in the ribs and belly with each inhale.
2. For When You Are Alone: Meditative Diaphragmatic Breathing
Taking “belly breaths” is a fast and effective way to slow down a racing mind, but it does require some space. First, sit or lie flat in a comfortable position. Place one hand below your ribcage on your belly, and one hand on your chest. Take a deep breath in through your nose, pushing your belly hand out, with your chest totally still. Then breathe out slowly through pursed lips, feeling the hand on the stomach fall with your release. Repeat this 5 to 10 times and assess how you are feeling at the end to determine if it helped soothe some anxiety.
3. For When You Are In Need of a Quick Release: Pursed Lip Breathing
Anxious folks know all too well that anxiety can happen any time and anywhere. To help deal with unexpected anxiety, consider trying pursed lip breathing which can be an effective method. All you have to do is simply inhale through your nose and slowly exhale through pursed lips until the lungs feel empty. The idea is to slow down a speeding heart or racing mind with deep intentional breaths.
4. For Relieving Tension: Lion’s Breath
The lion’s breath technique is borrowed from yoga practices, and it is a great, centering way to reconnect with yourself. Get into a comfortable seated position, either cross-legged or on your knees and butt on your heals. Place palms against knees, fingers spread wide, and inhale through your nose as you widen your eyes. Simultaneously open your mouth and stick out your tongue and let out a forceful, throating “ha” through your breath. Repeat 3 times minimum.
5. For Full Anxiety Relief: Square Breathing
Sometimes anxiety literally knocks the wind out of us. In an effort to try and calm ourselves and regulate our breathing it can help to envision breathing in a square. Start by working at the top corner of the square, then breathing in for the length of the straight line across to the other corner. Then hold in the breath going down to the bottom corner (about 4 seconds). Then you imagine drawing the line across to the other bottom corner with a 4-second exhale. As you work up to the original corner to complete the square, hold the exhale out for another four seconds. Repeat this process 4 times to feel a little more grounded.
6. For Falling Asleep Faster: 4-7-8 Breath Work
Racing mind before bedtime? Try this simple breathing technique to fall asleep fast. Developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, the goal is to practice focused breathing so you can quiet the mind and body. Start by sitting up perfectly straight and placing the tip of the tongue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there. Begin by exhaling through the mouth making a whooshing sound. Close the mouth and inhale quietly through the nose to the mental count of 4 seconds. Then hold your breath to the count of 7. Then, do another whooshing exhale to the count of 8. This whole process counts as one breath, so be sure to repeat the cycle 3 times.
All in all, keeping steady, deep breaths can get us through truly overwhelming situations. Remember, anxiety is a very personal issue that impacts individuals differently — and should always be treated by a professional. However, these small breathing exercises may help you in a moment of stress, and are a wonderful tool to have in your mental health kit.