Feeling anxious? Out of control? Worrying and without a way to slow down? We’re here to share some simple breathing exercises to help you gain control and hopefully reset or ease your anxiety. Did you know that when you’re anxious, you often start taking rapid and shallow breaths? These breaths come from the chest—rather than the diaphragm— and can cause an imbalance of oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. When this happens, you might feel a higher heart rate, dizziness, and muscle tensions, because your blood isn’t being oxygenated properly.

Meanwhile, when we’re breathing from our diaphragm, our parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated, which helps our peripheral nervous system regulate our heart rate, blood flow, digestion, and breathing.

Often when we shallow breathe, we can be in the fight or flight response—which you can read more about here—which is a reaction to a scary situation.

When we’re anxious, we’re often not aware of how we’re breathing. If you’re not sure how you’re breathing, you can do a quick test to figure out if you’re thoracic breathing (from the chest), or diaphragmatic breathing (from the abdomen). Place one of your hands on the middle of your chest, and one near your waist on your abdomen—when you breathe you’ll see one hand raises more than the other—which will indicate how you’re breathing.

Here are some breathing techniques you can try.

Breathing exercises for when you have a little time

The 4-7-8 breathing exercises can help to calm the nervous system. If you can, try and do it sat up straight until you get used to it and then can do it lying down.

  1. Position your tongue behind your front teeth, pressed against the ridge of tissue—keep it there throughout the breathing exercise.
  2. Let all of the air out of your lungs with a deep exhale—allowing yourself to make a ‘whooshing’ sound.
  3. Close your mouth, and inhale through your nose while counting to four.
  4. Hold that breath for another seven seconds.
  5. Exhale fully through your mouth and allow yourself to make a ‘whooshing’ sound again until the count of eight.

Breathing exercises for when you have a little longer

Resonance breathing can help you enter a relaxed state of mind and ease anxiety.

  1. Lie down comfortably and close your eyes.
  2. Take a gentle breath in (don’t fill your lungs with too much air) with your mouth closed while counting to six.
  3. Breathe out for six seconds, let yourself exhale without forcing your breath out, let it leave gently.
  4. Continue this process for up to ten minutes.
  5. When finished, allow yourself a few extra minutes to be still, and just focus on how you feel and how your body feels. Notice the ground beneath you, and then open your eyes.

Breathing exercises for when time isn’t an issue

Belly breathing can be a good way to ease anxiety and stress, and the American Institute of Stress suggests that 20-30 minutes of it each day can help improve your mental health.

  1. Try finding somewhere comfortable to sit or lay.
  2. Put one hand on your chest and one on your abdomen.
  3. Allow everything to relax, don’t try to pull in your tummy or clench any muscles.
  4. Take a deep breath in through your nose. Notice the air moving through your nose and down to your stomach, allowing it to rise with your hand on it, before falling inward towards your spine as you exhale.
  5. Breathe out slowly through slightly pursed lips—the hand on your chest should remain pretty still.
  6. This can be repeated three times a day for five to ten minutes each, working your way up to four times a day.

If breathing exercises aren’t helping, and you feel like your anxiety is becoming unmanageable, reach out to Sea Sanctuary to see how we can help. You can read more about our services, here.

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