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3 Essential Exercises to Calm Anxiety

Simple techniques to improve mental health.

Austin Neill/
Source: Austin Neill/

Whether you have occasional worries or full-blown anxiety attacks, deep-breathing is a must for maintaining optimal physical health and emotional well-being.

Deep-breathing is so vital because, in addition to helping you stay calm and avoid knee-jerk reactions, breathing is your best defense against panic attacks. If you’ve ever suffered one, you know how scary the experience can be. Maybe you thought you were having a heart attack, or worse—you may have felt like you were knocking on death’s door.

According to a study published by the Journal of Emergency Medicine, 30 percent of patients who seek treatment at emergency rooms with complaints of chest pain (and no evidence of coronary artery disease) suffer from panic disorder. When we're stressed out, we tend to over-breathe (rapid, shallow breaths that resemble panting), a culprit in panic reactions, or under-breathe (hold our breath) which can cause dizziness or hyperventilation.

Studies show that deep breathing increases brain functioning, soothes the nervous system, cleanses the lungs, and promotes quality sleep. It's a win-win, and these three techniques can help you get on the right side of calm.

1. Belly-breathing

Sit with your eyes closed and turn your attention to your breathing. Breathe naturally, preferably through the nostrils, without attempting to control your breath. Be aware of the sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils.

Step one: Place one hand on your belly, and the other on your chest. Take a deep breath for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of three. Exhale for a count of four. The hand on your chest should remain relatively still, while the hand on your belly rises gently upward. Contract your abdominal muscles to exhale, breathing out through your mouth.

Step two: Concentrate on your breath and forget everything else. Your mind may be busy, and you may feel that this exercise is making your mind busier, but the reality is you're becoming more aware of your mind's busy state.

Step three: Resist the temptation to follow the different thoughts as they arise, and focus on the sensation of the breath. If you discover that your mind has wandered and is following your thoughts, immediately return it to the breath.

Repeat as many times as necessary until your mind settles on the breath.

2. One Minute Breathing

Start by breathing in and out slowly to become aware of your natural breathing rhythm. Let the breath flow in and out effortlessly, as you prepare your lungs for deeper breaths.

Step one: Inhale for a count of four.

Step two: Hold for a count of seven. (If you feel dizzy, hold for four until you can build up to seven.)

Step three: Exhale for a count of eight.

Repeat four times.

3. Alternate Nostril Breathing

Step one: Use your right thumb to close off your right nostril.

Step two: Inhale slowly through your left nostril.

Step three: Pause for a count of one.

Step four: Now close your left nostril with your ring finger and release your thumb off your right nostril.

Step five: Exhale through your right nostril.

Step six: Now, inhale through your right nostril.

Step seven: Pause for a count of one.

Step eight: Close off your right nostril with your right thumb.

Step nine: Breathe out through your left nostril.

Start slowly with one or two sets and gradually increase the number. Sit quietly for a few moments after you have finished.

Zai Aragon/Shutterstock
Source: Zai Aragon/Shutterstock

Besides developing a wonderful, calming habit, intentional focus on deep-breathing can mean starting your day in a mindful state. Remember, anxiety loathes action, so stay three steps ahead by inhaling the good, and exhaling the bad.


For additional support to manage your anxiety so it doesn't manage you, check out Holistic Healing for Anxiety: A four-week online course.

Copyright 2017, Linda Esposito, LCSW

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