When we experience feelings of stress or anxiety, pulse rates quicken, muscles tense and we feel a rush of adrenaline and cortisone. These are signs of the fight or flight response, a natural reaction to encounting situations, people or any other triggers that invoke feelings of fear or dread.
When anxiety hits, the quickest way to calm down is through the practice of focused breathing exercises. Breathing techniques are surprisingly effective at reducing stress, and can be practiced anywhere and any time. Continue reading to learn how to integrate breathing exercises into your day as needed.
What is anxiety?
Before learning about breathing techniques to reduce the effects of anxiety, it helps to first have a general understanding of what this condition entails.
The human fight or flight reflex releases stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, that cause a cascade of physiological effects. The primary emotions associated with anxiety are fear, dread and a sense of feeling threatened or out of control.
Symptoms of anxiety may include:
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid and shallow breathing
- Focused “pinhole” vision
- Muscle tension
An anxiety disorder occurs when the human stress response appears frequently in the absence of an actual threat, interfering with the individual’s ability to lead a healthy and happy life. There are several subtypes of anxiety disorder, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress syndrome, specific phobias, social anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Many of these are associated with the early stages of recovery from substance use disorder.
Helpful breathing exercises
Anxiety is a leading trigger of relapse during recovery. Fortunately, by practicing focused breathwork, you can manage some of the most immediate symptoms of anxiety by inducing a more tranquil state.
Consider trying out these seven breathing exercises:
- From a standing position, bend at your waist, with your knees relaxed and arms at your sides.
- As you inhale, slowly return to an upright position.
- Hold your breath for three seconds.
- Exhale while slowly returning to the bent position.
- Repeat three times.
- Inhale through your nose on the count of four.
- Hold the breath to a count of seven.
- Exhale slowly and completely to the count of eight.
- Repeat five times.
Alternate nostril breathing:
- Use your index finger to apply pressure against your left nostril, closing off air flow.
- Inhale through your right nostril.
- Remove the index finger from your left nostril and press against your right nostril.
- Inhale through your left nostril.
- Repeat the pattern ten times.
- Sit comfortably.
- Place your left hand on your lap, palm facing up.
- As you breathe in, using your right hand index or middle finger, trace up your left thumb.
- As you exhale, using the same finger, trace down your left thumb.
- Continue to trace each finger up and down with a breath until you feel better.
- Purse your lips into a tight “O” shape.
- Inhale through your lips.
- Pause for a second or two.
- Exhale through your lips.
- Repeat 3-5 times.
- Breathe in on the count of four.
- Hold your breath to the count of four.
- Exhale on the count of four.
- Repeat 5-10 times.
- Inhale through your nose, paying attention to your diaphragm expanding.
- Pause for three seconds.
- Exhale completely through your mouth.
- Repeat five times.
Breathing techniques are useful coping mechanisms for reducing stress and anxiety throughout your day. Breathing exercises, along with other relaxation techniques, can help you better manage the effects of anxiety and improve your quality of life.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.