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Breathing Exercises to Decrease Anxiety and Help You Feel Calm

Breathing Exercises for Calm

Whether you are feeling nervous about an upcoming presentation, worried about something that happened at work, or have difficulty falling asleep – breathing exercises can be a powerful tool you can use to regulate your nervous system and increase your sense of feeling calm. 

How can something as simple as breathing, something we do all the time without thinking about it, help us feel more calm? The answer is based in science and has both physiological (body-based) and psychological (mental and emotional) factors.

What do Breathing Exercises do to our System?

Activation of the Relaxation Response:

Deep, slow, and controlled breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s “rest and digest” response. This counteracts the effects of the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for the “fight or flight” response. As a result, it helps reduce stress hormones like cortisol and promotes relaxation.

Improved Oxygenation:

Deep breathing increases the oxygen supply to the body, including the brain. Proper oxygenation is essential for optimal functioning of the body and mind while insufficient oxygen levels can contribute to feelings of stress and anxiety.

Reduced Muscle Tension:

Stress and anxiety often lead to muscle tension. Deep breathing helps relax the muscles, particularly in the neck, shoulders, and chest. As tension is released from the muscles, it signals to the brain that the body is no longer in a state of high alert, contributing to a sense of calm.

Mind-Body Connection:

Focusing on the breath during breathing exercises helps redirect attention away from stressors and intrusive thoughts. This mindful awareness of the present moment can break the cycle of anxious thinking and promote a sense of calm.

Stimulation of the Vagus Nerve:

The vagus nerve plays a crucial role in the parasympathetic nervous system. Deep, diaphragmatic (belly) breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, leading to a variety of relaxation responses, including a decrease in heart rate and blood pressure.

Release of Endorphins:

Deep breathing can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins act as natural painkillers and mood elevators, contributing to an overall sense of well-being and calm.

Improved Emotional Regulation:

Regular practice of breathing exercises can enhance emotional regulation by promoting a calmer state of mind. This can lead to better stress management and a reduced likelihood of reacting impulsively to stressful situations.

Now that we know why breathing exercises have beneficial effects, below are some different types of breathing exercises to try out.

5 Types of Breathing Exercises to Increase Calm

Deep Belly Breathing (Diaphragmatic Breathing):

  • Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
  • Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.
  • Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, allowing your abdomen to rise while keeping your chest relatively still.
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth or nose, feeling your abdomen fall.
  • Repeat for several breaths, focusing on the rise and fall of your abdomen.

4-7-8 Breathing:

  • Sit or lie down comfortably.
  • Inhale quietly through your nose for a count of 4.
  • Hold your breath for a count of 7.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth for a count of 8.
  • Repeat this cycle for several breaths.

Box Breathing (Square Breathing):

  • Inhale for a count of 4.
  • Hold your breath for a count of 4.
  • Exhale for a count of 4.
  • Pause and hold your breath for another count of 4.
  • Repeat the cycle for several rounds.

Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana):

  • Sit comfortably with a straight spine.
  • Use your right thumb to close off your right nostril and inhale through your left nostril.
  • Close your left nostril with your right ring finger and release your right nostril, exhaling through it.
  • Inhale through the right nostril, then close it off and exhale through the left nostril.
  • Repeat this pattern for several rounds.

Mindful Breathing:

  • Sit in a comfortable position and bring your attention to your breath.
  • Notice the sensation of each inhale and exhale.
  • If your mind wanders, gently bring your focus back to your breath without judgment.
  • Practice for a few minutes, gradually increasing the duration.
Breathing Exercises for Increased Calm

Choose a breathing exercise that resonates with you and feels comfortable. Consistent practice, even for just a few minutes a day, can contribute to increased calmness and a greater sense of well-being.

Our therapists at Open Door Therapist can help guide you towards strengthening your skills in regulating anxiety and panic, help you identify your triggers and understand yourself better, and explore the deeper causes of the anxiety responses you experience in order to heal past wounds and increase your overall well-being.

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