6 Breathing Exercises to Try When You Feel Anxious

Feeling anxious? You’re not alone. In today’s fast-paced world, anxiety touches many of us. While there are various ways to manage this unwelcome feeling, one of the most accessible and immediate techniques is breathing exercises. Let’s dive into six simple breathing strategies that can help calm your nerves anywhere, anytime.

Why Focus on Breathing?

Ever wonder why your breath quickens when you’re stressed? It’s your body’s natural response to threat, preparing you to fight or flee. By controlling your breath, you can signal your body to relax, tapping into your parasympathetic nervous system. This not only eases anxiety but also brings a host of other benefits like improved focus and better sleep.

Before You Begin

Before we get into the exercises, remember a couple of things. First, find a quiet space where you can sit comfortably without interruptions. Second, it’s okay if your mind wanders or if it takes a few tries to get it right. The key is consistency.

Breathing Exercises to Reduce Anxiety

1. The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique

How to Do It:

  • Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds.
  • Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
  • Exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds.

This method, developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, is like a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. It’s particularly good when you need to calm down quickly.

2. Diaphragmatic Breathing

Basics First:

Often called “belly breathing,” this technique involves breathing deeply into the belly rather than the chest. It helps strengthen your diaphragm and encourages full oxygen exchange.

H4: Steps:

  • Sit comfortably with your back straight.
  • Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest.
  • Breathe in deeply through your nose, ensuring your belly pushes against your hand more than your chest does.
  • Breathe out through pursed lips like you’re whistling.

3. Box Breathing (Square Breathing)


  • Inhale for a count of four.
  • Hold your breath for four.
  • Exhale for four.
  • Hold again for four.

This exercise is used by Navy SEALs to stay calm and focused, especially in stressful situations.

4. Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)

Technique Guide:

This yoga technique is said to bring balance and calm by harmonizing the left and right hemispheres of the brain.

  • Hold your right thumb over your right nostril and inhale deeply through your left nostril.
  • At the peak of inhalation, close off the left nostril with your ring finger, then exhale through the right nostril.
  • Continue this pattern, alternating nostrils after each inhalation.

5. Progressive Relaxation

Relax As You Go:

Breathe in deeply while tensing a particular muscle group (e.g., your legs), then breathe out and release the tension in that muscle. This can help reduce the feeling of physical anxiety that often accompanies mental stress.

6. Guided Visualization Breathing

Imagine and Breathe:

Combine deep breathing with calming imagery. Picture a peaceful scene and focus on detailed sensations—imagine smelling fresh pine or hearing ocean waves. Sync your breathing with this visualization to enhance relaxation.


Breathing exercises are a fantastic tool for managing anxiety. They’re free, you can do them almost anywhere, and the results are immediate. Whether you’re preparing for a stressful event or need to unwind after a long day, these techniques can help you find your calm.

Remember, like any skill, the more you practice, the better you’ll get at using these exercises to reduce anxiety.


How often should I practice these breathing exercises?

A: Daily practice is ideal. Even a few minutes can make a significant difference in how you manage stress and anxiety.

Can breathing exercises cure my anxiety?

A: While they are a helpful tool in managing symptoms, breathing exercises are not a cure for anxiety. They should be used in conjunction with other treatments recommended by healthcare professionals.

Are these breathing exercises safe for everyone?

A: Yes, most people can benefit from breathing exercises. However, if you have a respiratory condition like asthma, consult your doctor before starting any new breathing routines.

What should I do if I start feeling more anxious while practicing?

A: If a particular exercise makes you anxious or dizzy, stop and try a simpler technique, such as slow, deep breathing. Always practice within your comfort zone.

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