breathing techniques stress anxiety

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Feelings of stress and anxiety can be scary, especially when accompanied by physical sensations too. But there are techniques available to help...

In an article with CNBC, Dr Tara Swart (a neuroscientist, medical doctor and senior lecturer at MIT Sloan), revealed her top three exercises for putting a stop to feelings of intense anxiety, all of which she uses herself.

"Intense anxiety activates the sympathetic nervous system, a network of nerves that trigger the 'fight or flight' response to perceived danger," explains Dr Swart.

"Luckily, you have more power over this than you might think. As a neuroscientist, I use three exercises that take just a few minutes to reset my nervous system and feel calm again."

Dr Swart recommends sitting comfortably and following the below steps when you feel stress or anxiety building.

  1. Take a deep, long inhale through your nose for five seconds and hold.
  2. Take another quick inhale for one second and hold for three seconds.
  3. Sigh a slow, long exhale through your mouth for six seconds.
  4. Repeat the cycle three times.
    1. "That quick second inhale causes the air sacs in the lung, which collapse when we’re done inhaling, to reinflate with air. As a result, the surface area in the lungs increases and releases carbon dioxide from the body more efficiently. This helps to relax the body.

      Long exhales cause a slight increase in pressure to the receptors in the heart, signalling the brain to slow down the heart rate."

      Dr Swart says "the half-salamander stimulates the vagus nerves — a system that controls your heart rate — and triggers a relaxation response in our body."

      1. Sit or stand in a comfortable position, with your head facing forward.
      2. Shift your eyes to the right without turning your head.
      3. Tilt your head towards your right shoulder and hold for 30 to 60 seconds.
      4. Let your head come back up to its neutral position and shift your eyes to look forward again.
      5. Repeat the same steps on the other side.

        1. Dr Swart says: "This one is harder to do if you are at your desk or in the office, so it’s a great longer-term exercise to try at home.

          1. Kneel on all fours, with your head facing down.
          2. Look to the left without turning your head.
          3. Tilt your head to the left.
          4. Let your left spine twist with the head tilted to the left.
          5. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds
          6. Bring your head and spine to the centre to straighten out.
          7. Repeat the same steps on the other side.
            1. For additional support and information on mental health issues, contact your GP, call Samaritans (116 123), or visit

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