Life can be unpredictable and tense at times, leading to unwanted feelings of worry, anxiety and even depression.
Though sometimes our lives can feel out of our control, one thing we can always come back to and use to center ourselves is our breath. In fact, breathing is one of the best ways to fight off and relieve anxiety.
Research has shown that breathing exercises are one of the best ways to calm oneself, specifically in times of stress or anxiety. Below are three simple breathing exercises to practice to fight feelings of anxiety or depression.
How does breathing help?
Breathing is obviously something that we do unconsciously as a means of survival, however it is when we focus on our breath consciously and mindfully that it becomes a powerful force with amazing benefits.
Some of these benefits include less anxiety, a better mood and more energy, however mindful breathing does much more.
Conscious breathing can help to combat the stress hormones and the response the body has to anxiety, also known as “fight or flight”, which is why breathing exercises are so fantastic for managing anxiety symptoms.
There is also a powerful connection between the mind and the body, so when the mind is benefited, so is the rest of the physical body.
3 Powerful Breathing Exercises For Depression & Anxiety
While other lifestyle changes may need to be made in order to really combat your anxiety and depression, there are a few breathing techniques that can help you fight the body’s responses that can lead to these feelings. The “fight or flight” response is what sets your body off balance – the below breathing techniques can help to reverse that response and calm your body and mind.
1. The 4-7-8 Count Breathing Technique
This simple breathing technique is helpful when you are feeling very anxious, worried or upset. In fact, this technique is one that is often used to fight and end a panic attack.
Once you have developed the technique, aim to incorporate the 4-7-8 Count Breathing Technique at least twice a day. It is a grounding breathing technique that can be used during almost any circumstance to center yourself.
Use a watch to count your breaths for better efficiency and you will find that the entire sequence takes less than a minute!
To perform the 4-7-8 Count Breathing Technique:
- Place the tip of your tongue behind your front teeth. This is the position it will remaing throughout the entire sequence.
- Breathe in deeply through your nose for a count of 4.
- Hold your breath for a count of 7.
- Release your breath through your mouth with a “whooshing” sound for a count of 8.
- Without stopping, breathe in again as you did in step two. Repeat the entire sequence three to four times, then resume normal breathing.
- You may feel slightly lightheaded after this exercise due to the deep breaths you’ve been taking, however this feeling will pass as soon as you resume normal breathing. That feeling shows that it is working – readjusting your body and putting you back on the right track.
2. The Stimulating Breath
This technique is used most often in yoga practices to boost energy and alertness. It is said the feeling after the stimulating breath is as invigorating as a workout.
To perform the Stimulating Breath:
- With your mouth closed and relaxed, inhale and exhale rapidly through your nose. Your breaths should be equal in duration both inhaling and exhaling, however they should be kept as short as possible.
- Try this technique for three cycles per round. Do not do more than 15 seconds of your first try. Each time you practice, add 5 more seconds until you reach a full minute.
During this technique you should feel the effects at the back of the neck, the diaphragm, the chest and the abdomen. Try this breathing technique next time you need to regain focus or need a boost of energy.
3. Breath Counting
This breathing technique is most often used in Zen practices. It is often paired with meditation, which makes this type of breathing technique unique and special.
The purpose of this technique is to practice conscious breathing which helps to pull the mind away from any distractions and helps to center one’s self in the presence.
This kind of technique can be used often and is a great way to refocus.
To perform Breath Counting:
- Sit in a comfortable position with a straight spine and your head tilted slightly forward. Close your eyes and take a few normal breaths.
- To begin, breathe in and out naturally without trying to influence the breath or “push” it. The rythm of the breath should be slow.
- Count each slow exhale until you reach the count of five. Once you reach five, start back again at 1.
- You should be only focused on counting breaths here, not forcing a deep inhale or an exhale.
The above breathing techniques are a great way to beat anxiety and center one’s self in the present. If you find yourself overwhelmed with emotions or overcome with worry and anxiety, try one of the above techniques to fight it off!