facebook twitter google+ linkedin youtube rss feed

Breathing Exercises For Anxiety

Posted on


Breathing Exercises For Anxiety

The way in which we breathe is really important and so are breathing exercises for anxiety. Often anxious feelings are likely to make us breathe differently and we may not be familiar with this. How we breathe makes anxiety worse. The fantastic thing about breathing is we're able to take control and then try to influence the way we would like to breathe.


Short of Breath Anxiety

This article will help you

  • Learn how to control your breathing
  • Show you that practicing, especially when you are relaxed, is the key to success


Why is breathing so crucial?

Breathing Exercises For panic attacksEveryone takes breathing for granted. People think there is no way they might be breathing wrongly. Unfortunately it’s not true. We all slump in our chairs and at first we feel contented and laid-back. But eventually we begin to ache. Sitting in unnatural positions can result in problems. Breathing is similar to this. Breathing very fast over a short period of time isn't a problem. Picture the time you were late for your bus and you then watched it coming down the road. You probably ran for the bus stop and felt totally breathless as soon as you arrived at the bus stop just in time. Once you got inside the bus your breathing and heart rate then began to decrease. Our bodies are built to manage short bursts of adrenaline so there isn't a problem. But if you constantly breathe rapidly over a long time and you're simply not moving, then this can cause terrifying sensations. This kind of breathing is frequently categorised as hyperventilation. It’s a normal reaction to a stress response if you have become constantly anxious over something. This type of reaction will eventually lead to a person becoming ‘sensitized’ to a place, situation or thing.

When a person becomes sensitized they have essentially conditioned themselves to respond to certain physical and psychological stimuli, with extreme hypersensitivity.

For example, say you don’t like heights.  Every time you see a tall building in real life or even just on TV, it brings a reaction of fear physically or emotionally (or maybe both.)  Your body will tense up; you will have racing scary thoughts and your breathing will speed up amongst other things.

Panic Attack Shortness of Breath

How do you know if you have become sensitized or are not breathing properly?

There's a simple quick test that you can do. Lie down on your bed and just try to relax as best you can. Please one hand on your diaphragm or your belly button. Put your other hand in the middle of your chest just below your collar bone. Pay attention to which hand is moving the most. If the hand upon your navel is going up and down gradually, then you’re breathing OK. If the hand on top of your chest is moving up and down then you’re not breathing correctly. This is really important because breathing from the upper chest increases the likelihood of hyperventilation.

I would especially do this exercise when you are feeling anxious or panicky. Why? Because this is when your breathing is likely to be incorrect.  I had a habit of tensing my stomach muscles (like I was expecting a punch around my waistline) when I was feeling anxious or panicky.  This naturally caused me to breath via my upper chest.  It was almost as if my body was trying everything it could to make me feel anxious.  At my worst I was breathing incorrectly all the time. As I got better, I noticed that I was only breathing incorrectly when I felt panicky sensations coming on.

Tip from trenches

You will stand a much better chance of correcting your breathing if you practice when you’re relaxed.   You will be able to notice incorrect breathing patterns once you practice diaphragmatic breathing.  Chest breathing can then be corrected by taking over your breathing.  You will find your breathing will be naturally slower and deeper the more relaxed you are, and the more you start to overcome anxiety.  That said, it works the other way as well.  If you have a full blown major panic attacks there will be little you can do to control your breathing.


Stand to Attention!

Have you ever be told at school to stand up straight, stomach in and chest out.  Although this may look good, it encourages poor breathing and hyperventilation.  I’m sure we have been in pubs or shopping and tried to bring in our bellies to make us a look a bit thinner!  Well this encourages poor breathing as well.

You have probably observed that once we exercise we breathe quicker to provide our muscles with oxygen. This enables us to exert ourselves, to run away from a predicament or even to fight (flight or fight response.) By doing this we are relieving our body of emotional stress. Our bodies have a tendency to naturally chest breathe when we exercise in order that we can have more oxygen. However if we over breath continuously (i.e. it becomes a habit) our oxygen level rises too much, and our carbon dioxide level drops. You might have seen the classic method to overcome this, often taught in medical books, is to breathe into a paper bag. By breathing back exactly what you have exhaled (Carbon dioxide Co2), your balancing Oxygen and Co2 within their normal levels. I must say from my own personal experience it’s more beneficial to treat the cause rather than the symptoms.


Breathing For Panic Attacks

Does it matter that I don’t breathe properly?

Yes it does.  Why?, because it produces all the unpleasant sensations we become afraid of Exhaustion, Visual problems, cramps, shakes, tingling sensations, chest pains, etc.   The problem with hyperventilation is the symptoms are extremely alarming, and cause more symptoms which in turn cause more over breathing and more symptoms.  It’s kind of a downward spiral.  My overriding memories of hyperventilation were being stuck in meetings at work where I would feel overwhelming sensations for the need to escape, whilst my breathing was very rapid.  If you’re sitting, but breathing as if you’re running the London marathon, this means the oxygen levels your building up has nowhere to go but produce horrible feelings.  I just use to grit my teeth and try and bear it (totally the wrong thing to do). The worst sensation was probably the heart palpitations which made me think my heart was going to stop and I would die.  But that’s enough doom and gloom.

If you’re experiencing the same then I will help you recover from this.  I don’t suffer from hyperventilation now and it feels great to breathe deep slowly and deeply.  That said, there are many things you will need to incorporate in your life to get your breathing to return to calm state.  Diet, exercise, relaxation techniques, etc.

How do we reverse the situation?

It’s essential therefore that we learn why we are breathing incorrectly and establish new correct patterns of breathing.  What we need to do is to lower the  adrenalin level and stop the fight or flight response happening.  This will then bring to an end the unpleasant sensations.   First, we must learn how to breathe properly.  We know breathing from the upper chest is bad when we want to be relaxed.  We should be breathing from the diaphragm or tummy.  It should be a simple smooth in breath without gasping.  Then a slight pause, followed by an out breath which should be longer than the in breath. It’s helpful to say in your mind the word ‘relax’ as you exhale.

Exercise 1 Breathing


Lie down on your bed and place your hands on the area between your ribs and your naval.  Your fingertips should just be touching.  AsBreathing Exercises For Anxiety your diaphragm expands your hands should separate slightly.  As you exhale your fingertips should touch again.  If this is not happening then you’re not doing the exercise properly!

Keep your hands on your diaphragm and close your mouth and breathe in and out via your nose.   This bit is important, as you breathe in, I want you to expand your stomach and inflate it like a balloon and then deflate your stomach as you breathe out.  I want you to breathe in to the count of 4 seconds.  Hold the breath for a second or two and then exhale for about 5 seconds.  The exhale should always be longer than the inhale.  This is because you want to make sure you are emptying your lungs.  As you practice and improve you be able to breathe in for say 8 seconds and exhale for 12 seconds.  At first this may seem strange but with practice you will get the hang of it.   The idea is to inflate your lungs slowly, hold, then exhale even more slowly in a calm, rhythmic state.  Controlling your breathing is what we are ultimately trying to achieve, with slow and even breathes.  As you exhale just release any stress or tension.  Let your body be as loose and floppy as possible.  You should feel your body after 10 mins or so start to sink in the bed with a feeling of weightlessness, and a feeling of being detached from your body.  Aim to undertake this breathing for about 15mins (longer if possible).  Practice is the key and more often you practice during the day the better you will acquire the skill.


Ready to start.  Lie on the bed and make yourself as comfortable as possible.  Then take an in breath.

In 1, 2, 3 & 4 (feel you tummy rise like a balloon).  Hold for a second or two.  Then breathe out 1, 2, 3,4 & 5 (your tummy should deflate slowly.

The first few times you practice this, just stick to the above.  After a while, try extending your breathing to 5 or 6 second in breath and a 7 or 8 second exhale.   Soon you will be able to train your body to breath only a few times a minute.  This is one of the techniques free divers use to be able to control and hold their breath.

What next?

When you have perfected the above exercise, you should know the feeling of breathing deeply, slowly and calmly. The next stage is to practice when you’re sitting and finally standing.  Eventually you will be able to apply this technique when you’re in any situation.  There is no reason why you can’t practice this when your shopping or at work.  By this stage you will not need to use your hands, so nobody will notice what you’re doing this.  I can’t stress enough you need to practice this when you’re in a calm state.  When you feel your body start to feel anxious you should apply what you have learnt, until the symptoms and anxiety subside.  My panic use to manifest itself by me tensing up my tummy muscles, forcing me to breath via my chest.  I quite often use to contract my stomach muscles when I breathed in, which was totally the wrong thing to do.  When you identify where you are going wrong then you can start to get better.  Take a look at your posture and how you breathe.  I would recommend you practice lying down and once you get better you can practice sitting in a chair, but make sure you sit up straight.  This will encourage diaphragmatic breathing.  We need to watch our breathing every now again to correct faulty breathing caused by life stresses.


Breathing Techniques for Anxiety and Panic Attacks


Simply knowing how to breathe properly is not enough to be able to control your breathing.  Why?, well because if your diet is poor, is your abusing your body, if your thoughts are negative, if you’re not exercising enough then the panic and anxiety will rise in your body.  You may recognize that your breathing is wrong and you have the tools to know how to breathe properly, but because you feel so panicky, you still won’t be able to control your breathing.  Unless you follow the other advice I give these breathing techniques will not work.  There is so much miss-information on the internet today that learning breathing techniques is not the complete answer.  I can tell you after suffering panic attacks for 10 years that this is only part of the solution.

Breathing part 2

Why relaxation is so important?

Relaxation is one of the many building blocks needed to provide a good solid platform for recovery from any type of anxiety disorder.  The habit of producing nervous tension and panic creates a circle of fear.  To break this, relaxation is a vital key to unlock the door to the road to recovery.

How often do I need to do it?

You will need to practice relaxing every day.  As simple as that.  You need to be able to combat your tension head on, and keep persevering to flick the switch back to a normal relaxed state.  Most people tend to naturally wind down in the evening, but when you’re doing things during the day this is when you will need to be relaxed as possible.  Practicing late at night seems to be favourite with most people because the body relaxes easier then, and people have the time to do it.  But don’t ignore practising in the middle of day because this is when you need to be relaxed more than ever. 

Why should I practice daily?

Your body over a period of time has become sensitized to certain situations, people, things and it will take time to reverse this.   Often anxiety can make it seem like you’re not making any progress but I can assure you these techniques do work with practice.   At the start it doesn’t matter too much if you believe they work or not, just try and start implementing them.  Take action.  After a while you begin to enjoy and take great pleasure knowing how to let your body slow down.  Often it takes times for the body and mind to adjust to this new way of thinking and acting.


Why is the way I think so important?

The brain is the trigger to making you feel anxious.  You may think it’s the external events that make you panicky, but the single most important thing you can do to counteract anxiety is to change your thoughts.  Sometimes our thoughts interfere with us relaxing.  We think we will lose control.  It’s only when you really go the extra step and truly let go and accept the way you feel, then you no longer fear it.


I think it’s imperative as you breathe out you think positive calming thoughts.  Say on the out breathe that ‘I am calm and relaxed’ or ‘Any tension is being released through my feet’ or ‘I totally accept who I am and feel stronger everyday’.  The main improvement you will see is how your breathing slows down and becomes quiet.  If you have ever watched a baby or small child breathe you will have noticed that they hardly seen to breathe at all.  You will just about be able to see their diaphragm slowly moving up and down.  That’s what I want you to achieve.  Panic attacks sufferers tend to do all the wrong things which inhibit breathing.  Their shoulders are so tense, there neck is up around their ears.  They clench their teeth, hunch their back, have stiff necks, etc.  Make the effort to ‘check in’ every hour and relax each part of your body.  Start at the top and work your way down.  It’s something you can do anywhere – at work, at home, shopping, etc.

Tip from the trenches

When you first start doing these exercises you may feel more anxious.  This is perfectly normal as your body is doing something unfamiliar.  It’s got so use to panicking that it considers it normal.  Keep persevering, it’s a good sign and it shows that you are challenging your minds old beliefs.  You will find that the tension will gradually diminish.  Overtime your body will revert back to its normal, balanced state.  Keep smiling and tell yourself everything is fine.  Give yourself a pat on the back.

Breathing exercise - long exercise

The whole object of this step is to teach you to relax properly and to know the difference between tension and relaxation in your muscles.   It’s important that you practice these exercise to make progress and feel the full effects.  Do them at various points in the day or when you feel you anxiety levels raise.  I would recommend ideally you do them when you in a relaxed state, so you can fully practice and learn the skills you will need when you are more tense.   These exercises are especially useful to lower your body’s reaction to stress.

Long breathing exercises deserve a blog post in themselves so please read my article Guided Relaxation Techniques and ExercisesHere you will find guided techniques to tense and relax your muscles for deep relaxation.  You can even record your own guided Meditation to play anytime you wish.  Hopefuly you now have a better understanding of Breathing Exercises for Anxiety & Panic Attacks.


the secret blod the secret........




Breathing Techniques

I have read several books on this subject and I would recommend either Anxiety Free: Stop Worrying and Quieten Your Mind - The Only Way to Oxygenate Your Brain and Stop Excessive and Useless Thoughts Featuring the Buteyko Breathing Method and Mindfulness orThe Breathing Book: Vitality and Good Health Through Essential Breath Work .  Both tell you the benefits of deep breathing which will help reduce feelings of panic and anxiety, but you can also control your emotions much better if you breath correctly.  If you are after listening to guided breathing through headphones than can find Breathing MP3 Downloads here.

Relaxtion / Hypnosis Cd's - Contrary to what they claim should be used as a relaxation aid rather than any quick fix Thoroughly recommend you read through the description of the Cd to make sure you know what they contain.  Some techniques may work better than others for you, so taylor them to suit your needs.

Hypnosis Cd for Panic and Anxiety Attacks   A very good hypnosis Cd thats especially produced for panic attack sufferers.  The more you use it and apply the techniques the more benefit you will get. Control Stress : Stop Worrying and Feel Good Now   I have included this in the Cd section but the bulk of the information is in a book format.  Paul Mckenna is one of the most famous hypnotists, and this book/Cd gives sound practical advice on decreasing stress.  The book has lots of techniques and tips which need to be applied and can bring a sense of reality when you might start thinking negative thoughts.

Glen Harrold hypnosis cds Glenn Harrold has produced lots of different Cd's from weight loss to inner clam.  They certainly helped me in my recovery and I would recommend them fully.  If you click on the link you can search through the Cd's he has produced and see if any catch your fancy.

Ultimate Relaxation   A guided meditation by the well known Dr Hilary Jones (you have probably seen him on morning TV).  Contains tips and techniques on relaxation.

Dream Surf   If you like the sound of the ocean then this will be the Cd for you.

Body and Soul - Relaxation: Resting the Mind Reviving the Body If you like just gentle soothing music without any hypnosis, meditation or talking then I recommend this.

You can find the bestselling Relaxation/Anxiety Cd's here.  The most popular Relaxation MP3 Downloads can be found here and you can listen to a preview.

You can find some FREE meditation and relaxtions audios at excelatlife

If you want to record your own relaxation recordings then I have relaxation scripts/exercises you can record yourself.  I good way to do this is record them on your mobile phone and listen to the exercises when you need to.

Meditation books

Self Help for Your Nerves: Learn to relax and enjoy life again by overcoming stress and fear Pass Through Panic: Freeing Yourself from Anxiety and Fear [Audiobook] [Audio CD] Ultimate Relaxation

Other Related Articles

Panic Attacks Breathing
Treatment for Panic Attacks

How to Stop a Panic Attack?

Fear of suffocation and Claustrophobia

Prevent Panic Attacks - Challenging the Thoughts which Cause Panic

How to cure Panic Attack Disorder?

How to Cure & Recover From Panic Attacks


large ebook

Like what you read?   


If so, please join to receive exclusive weekly tips & tools to overcome anxiety and panic attacks, and get a FREE COPY of my eBook, How to Recover & Cure Yourself of Anxiety & Panic Attacks! Just enter your name and email arrow right



Add a comment:

Leave a comment:


  1. I have been advised to take Magnesium for panic attacks, but it is hard for me to believe that it really could help. Anybody have luck with taking it?

    Posted on

Add a comment