As someone who's walked the tightrope of anxiety, I've come to understand its complex nature and the profound impact it can have on one's life. Anxiety isn't just about feeling nervous or worried; it's a persistent state of unease that can creep in even without a clear trigger, impacting not just our mental health but our physical well-being, too. Through my journey and struggles, I've found a powerful ally in the form of breathing techniques grounded in science to combat anxiety. Let me share these practices that can be your cornerstone of recovery.

The Science Behind Breathing and Anxiety Relief

It's fascinating how something as innate as breathing can wield such power over our minds, feelings, and reactions. Imagine your body has two gears: one gear revs you up for action (like when you're stressed or scared), and the other does the opposite, calming you down. These gears are part of what's called the autonomic nervous system.

When we're anxious or stressed, our body often switches into high gear, ready for action. This is thanks to our sympathetic nervous system—it's like the body's accelerator pedal. However, there's also a brake pedal, known as the parasympathetic nervous system. Controlled breathing exercises help push this brake pedal, shifting the body into a state of calm and relaxation.

One of the stars of this calming process is the vagus nerve, a long nerve running from the brain down through the neck and into the abdomen. It's like a communication superhighway that sends messages of calm and relaxation throughout our body. Focusing on our breath and consciously slowing it down can activate this nerve, effectively telling our heart to beat slower and our blood pressure to decrease, which brings peace and tranquility.

This understanding transformed my approach to managing anxiety, revealing the power of breath as a tool for finding balance amidst the chaos of life. So here are some of the breathing techniques that can be instrumental in your anxiety recovery, too. Try them all and find the one that works best for you.

Longer Exhales: The Foundation of Calm

Scientifically, longer exhales help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, telling our body to relax and unwind. This process is akin to applying the brakes in a fast-moving car, gently but firmly slowing down the body's stress response.

How to Practice Longer Exhales:

Start by finding a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down. Take a moment to breathe naturally, then gradually shift your focus to extending your exhales. Try inhaling for a count of four, then exhale slowly for a count of six to eight. Progressively extend your exhales by repeating this cycle for a few minutes, and feel the tranquility envelop you.

Belly Breathing: Tapping Into Your Diaphragm

Belly breathing encourages full diaphragm engagement, promoting a deeper, more efficient breath. This method increases oxygen exchange and can reduce the heart rate, offering a direct pathway to relaxation.

How to Practice Belly Breathing:

Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. As you inhale through your nose, focus on letting your belly rise, filling your lungs with air. Exhale through pursed lips, gently contracting your abdominal muscles. Aim for slow, steady breaths, and notice the sense of calm that follows.

Equal Breathing: A Pattern of Peace

Equal breathing, also known as box breathing, is about creating a rhythmic pattern of breath that stabilizes the mind and body. The equal duration of inhaling, holding, exhaling, and pausing harmonizes our physiological systems, reducing stress and enhancing focus.

How to Practice Equal Breathing:

Inhale quietly through your nose to a count of four, and hold your breath for another count of four. Then, gently exhale through your mouth for four counts and pause for four counts before inhaling again. This square pattern can be repeated for several minutes, guiding you toward a state of centered calm.

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Resonance Breathing: Harmonizing Body and Mind

Resonance breathing, or coherence breathing, is a fascinating journey into the heart of our physiological and emotional balance. It's about fine-tuning our breathing to a specific rhythm that promotes harmony between our heart rate and breathing, boosting our heart rate variability (HRV). This unique harmony is where our heart, breath, and mind find common ground, reducing anxiety and enhancing emotional regulation.

However, achieving this state of coherence isn't a one-size-fits-all process. Each of us has a unique resonance frequency—a specific breathing rate that maximizes this harmonization effect. To find yours, it's best to use a live biofeedback breathing wearable that can establish your baseline.

Once you've identified your resonance frequency, practice breathing at this rate for a few minutes each day. Over time, you'll likely find it easier to enter this state of coherence, experiencing deeper levels of relaxation and emotional stability.

Minimal Breathing: Embracing Air Hunger

Rooted in the principles of the Buteyko Method and Oxygen Advantage, minimal breathing involves gently reducing your breath intake to create a slight sensation of air hunger. This technique enhances carbon dioxide tolerance and improves oxygenation, fostering a deep sense of relaxation.

It also can be an immediate tool for panic attacks. Once faced with one, many people start over-breathing, hyperventilating themselves. The minimal breathing technique can help combat that and, thus, stop a panic attack before it entirely unfolds.

How to Practice Minimal Breathing:

After a normal exhale, pause and hold your breath for a few seconds until you experience a mild need for air. Resume gentle breathing through your nose for about 10 seconds. Repeat this cycle for a few minutes, always ensuring the air hunger remains manageable.

Beginner Tips to Maximize Breathwork's Results

For those just beginning this journey, remember that the key is exploration and consistency. Experiment with these techniques to find what resonates with you. And regular practice can transform these methods from mere exercises into powerful tools for managing anxiety.

In today's digital age, harnessing technology such as biofeedback devices can also provide invaluable insights into your progress, allowing you to tailor your practice to your body's needs. Devices like Oxa are a great way to start exploring the effect of different techniques, taking away all the guesswork and providing you with guided practices a tap away.

Embarking on Your Breathing Journey

Breathing, something so fundamental, holds the key to unlocking a state of calm and control over anxiety. My journey from the depths of panic to a place of peace has taught me that with patience, practice, and perseverance, it's possible to navigate the tumultuous waters of anxiety. So now I invite you to take that first breath toward your journey of recovery and discovery.

Also Read: Power of Breath: 3 Best Ways to Deal with Stress


What are the best breathing techniques for anxiety?

The best breathing techniques for managing anxiety include Longer Exhales, Belly Breathing, Equal Breathing, Resonance Breathing, and Minimal Breathing. These techniques vary in their approach but share a common goal of activating the parasympathetic nervous system to induce a state of calm.

Can deep breathing reduce anxiety?

Yes, deep breathing can significantly reduce anxiety. It works by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which serves as the body's natural brake system, slowing down the heart rate and lowering blood pressure, thus inducing a state of calm and relaxation. Controlled deep breathing exercises engage the vagus nerve, promoting a message of calm throughout the body, which can alleviate symptoms of anxiety.

Does nose breathing help anxiety?

Nose breathing can be particularly effective in managing anxiety. It encourages a slower, more controlled intake of air, which can enhance the efficiency of breathing and increase oxygen uptake. Nose breathing also helps to filter and humidify the air and can contribute to a higher production of nitric oxide, which has various health benefits, including improved respiratory health. This method can lead to a reduction in anxiety symptoms by promoting relaxation and stabilizing the mind.

How can I relax my mind from stress?

To relax your mind from stress, engaging in breathing exercises is a highly effective method. Techniques like Equal Breathing, where you inhale, hold, exhale, and pause for equal counts, can create a sense of balance and calm. Additionally, integrating mindfulness practices and ensuring regular physical activity can contribute to stress reduction. Consistency in these practices, along with a healthy lifestyle, can significantly aid in relaxing the mind.

How do I know if I have anxiety?

Identifying anxiety typically involves recognizing a pattern of persistent worry or fear that interferes with daily activities. Symptoms can include restlessness, a feeling of being on edge, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, and sleep disturbances. Anxiety can also manifest physically, presenting as an increased heart rate, rapid breathing, or sweating. If you're experiencing these symptoms regularly and find they're impacting your quality of life, it may be an indication of anxiety. Consulting a healthcare professional can provide a definitive diagnosis and guidance on managing symptoms.

Dean Stott
May 28, 2024

CBT, CPD, an educator, coach, and ambassador, is the visionary founder behind DLCanxiety, the world's largest anxiety support community established in 2018. With a following exceeding 1 million, his platform serves as a pivotal space for open dialogues on mental health. Dean's mission is to reassure individuals they're not alone in their recovery journey, making his platform a premier resource for understanding and navigating the complexities of anxiety disorder.

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Get the Oxa Sensor and your choice of garment - lounge-wear shirt, bra, or adjustable chest strap. Your purchase includes access to the Oxa app which gives personalized data summaries and insights, as well as access to breathing exercises to teach you how to harness the power of your own breath.