Breathing techniques for anxiety—a natural way to help cope with an issue that affects many

Breathing techniques for anxiety can help to alleviate the symptoms of the condition, which affects many of us

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Breathing techniques for anxiety are a fantastic and effective way to help improve your mental health. Not only are they scientifically proven to help you feel better but they're also completely natural and doable anywhere!

Mental health awareness week is a great opportunity to take stock of your own mental health and to consider how you can improve it. Perhaps you're thinking about new hobbies that will spark creativity and help you discover a new passion? Or even thinking about getting your hands on a yoga mat and trying out some easy yoga for beginners?

According to the Office on Women's Health, nearly 1 in 5 adults in the United States are affected by anxiety disorders, but you don't need to have a disorder to feel anxious in your daily life. Anxiety is a completely normal reaction to stress. 

But when it becomes hard to control and affects your day-to-day life, it can be disabling. Anxiety disorders are treated in many ways, including counseling, medicine, yoga, meditation. Whether you use any or all of these methods to manage your anxiety, incorporating breathing techniques for anxiety is an excellent way to help you in your daily life.

Yoga and pranayama teacher Nathalie Limon is a passionate mental health advocate who hosts workshops in breathwork and meditation. She offered woman&home her sage advice on some simple techniques that can help those who suffer from anxiety.

Breath timing hack

This quick practice is designed to be used in stressful, perhaps even overwhelming, situations. Or at a moment when you feel you need to 'down-regulate' your nervous system.

"You don't need anything in particular to do this," Nathalie says. "It could be before a big meeting or during a stressful commute. Perhaps something has triggered a stressful memory."

"Either standing or sitting, find yourself staying relatively still. You're going to work simultaneously with your breath and your gaze. First, you begin with breath awareness." 

"Begin counting 1,2,3 for your inhale and exhale 1,2,3,4,5 for your exhale. If you feel you need to adapt this in any way—please do," she says. Explaining that the main technique to work with is lengthening your exhale so it is longer than your inhale.

Once you begin, repeat the timed inhale and exhale over and over again, focussing on the breath. Soon enough, you'll get into a rhythm that suits you, your body, and your needs. You should already start to feel a little less activated in the body.

Belly breathing

The next useful breath pattern, which we should aim to be in for most of our day, is known as belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing. 

Nathalie explains, "We all spent our early years breathing low and wide into our stomach, provided we had safe surroundings that is. What tends to happen in adults is that we unlearn this behavior and start to breathe mostly into the top section of our lungs."

This is due to mounting stressors of adult life and society generally. With our nervous systems very scarcely out of the ‘Fight, Flight or Freeze’ response we start to unconsciously breathe in a way that suggests we need air quickly, in order to act quickly and escape 'threat.'

Nathalie explains, "This then becomes automatic and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If our automatic breathing is not settled and contributing to our rest and digest state then we will rarely feel truly calm. We are missing out on the oxygen-rich air which sits in the lower chambers of the lungs unless we start to do it consciously."

The great thing about belly breathing is that you can practice it absolutely anywhere, seated or laying down. To start try to release tension in the muscles in your face, shoulders, and trunk. Place your left hand on your heart center and your right hand on your stomach.

Inhale, taking a low and slow breath from your belly for a count to three. As you inhale you should feel your stomach rise up. The hand on your chest should move very little. Pause momentarily before releasing the air for a count of three, the stomach will deflate.

"Some people like to work with a mantra when working with this breath pattern," she adds. "Such as 'I am' on the inhale 'Safe' on the exhale."

You keep on breathing in this pattern, with or without this mantra and you'll feel the effects with time.

Nathalie says, "The wonderful thing about our brains is that they are ultimately very malleable.. after working with this breath consciously a few times it will feel much easier to come back too, you might even find that you start to breathe this way predominantly in times of calm."

If you think that you or someone close to you is suffering from an anxiety disorder, reach out to a medical professional for advice and support.

US readers can check out the National Alliance for Mental Illness website for more information and UK readers can check out Mind.

Aoife Hanna
Junior News Editor

Aoife is an Irish journalist and writer with a background in creative writing, comedy, and TV production.

Formerly woman&home's junior news editor and a contributing writer at Bustle, her words can be found in the Metro, Huffpost, Delicious, Imperica and EVOKE.

Her poetry features in the Queer Life, Queer Love anthology.

Outside of work you might bump into her at a garden center, charity shop, yoga studio, lifting heavy weights, or (most likely) supping/eating some sort of delicious drink/meal.