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Try these 5 Secret Breathing Techniques to Instantly Vanquish Anxiety!

06 Nov, 2023

Blog author iconHealthtrip Team
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Anxiety can feel like a relentless, unwelcome companion. It disrupts our daily lives, sleep, and even our ability to enjoy the present moment. However, there's a natural, accessible remedy at our disposal that is often underestimated: breathing. By focusing on our breath, we can tap into our body's natural ability to relax and recalibrate our nervous system. Below are five powerful breathing techniques that can help you combat anxiety quickly and effectively.


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1. The 4-7-8 Technique


The 4-7-8 breathing technique is a simple yet profound method to unlock the calming potential of your breath. Developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, it draws from the ancient Indian practice of pranayama, which translates to 'life force extension' and involves the regulation of breath to enhance life energy. Here's a detailed step-by-step guide to help you master this technique and harness its anxiety-quelling benefits:

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Preparation:


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  1. Choose a Quiet Space: Find a place where you won't be disturbed. A quiet, comfortable spot where you can sit or lie down is ideal.
  2. Comfortable Position: Sit with your back straight or lie on a flat surface. Ensure your comfort, as you will need to hold this position for several minutes.
  3. Mindset: Approach this exercise with a positive mindset. Acknowledge that this is your time to relax and give yourself permission to pause your day.


Steps for the 4-7-8 Technique:


Step 1: Complete Exhalation

Let's begin. Part your lips just a little bit. Now, exhale through your mouth fully, making a 'whoosh' sound as you go. Push out every bit of air you can and feel the tension leaving with the breath. The sound is your cue to let go of everything that's been weighing on your mind.


Step 2: Quiet Inhalation

Now, close your mouth and take a silent, steady inhale through your nose. Mentally count to four while you're doing this. One... two... three... four. Let the breath come in naturally and imagine it's a wave of peace flowing into you, soothing every part of your body.


Step 3: Hold Your Breath

Hold that breath. Count to seven in your head. One... two... three... four... five... six... seven. The oxygen is filling your bloodstream, balancing and calming your nervous system. Hold the air in gently—no need to tense up or strain.


Step 4: Exhalation with Sound

Time to exhale. Part your lips once more and let the air cascade out with that whooshing sound, counting all the way to eight. One... two... three... four... five... six... seven... eight. This isn't just about the breath; it's a signal to your body to relax and release all the stress.


Step 5: Repeat

You've completed one breath cycle, and it should have taken around 16 seconds. Without pausing, let's begin the next cycle. Exhale, inhale, hold, and exhale with the whooshing sound again. We'll do this for four full cycles. Each time, try to let go a little more, sinking deeper into relaxation with every breath you take.


Points to Remember:


  • Regular Practice: Consistency is essential. Try to do the 4-7-8 technique twice a day to establish a rhythm in your physiological state.
  • Focus on Breath: The numbers are crucial as they help keep your mind focused, but try not to get too hung up on them. The objective is to feel the breath as it moves in and out of your body.
  • Posture: Maintain good posture during seated practice to keep your breathing passages open.
  • Relaxation: With each exhalation, imagine stress and anxiety leaving your body, leading to deeper relaxation.


Advanced Tips:


  • Visualization: Some people find it helpful to visualize peaceful imagery on the inhale and imagine blowing out stress on the exhale.
  • Timing: The 4-7-8 technique is particularly useful when you feel anxiety creeping in or before events you know may be stressful.
  • Integration: Over time, integrate this technique into your stress response routine, using it to center and calm yourself in any situation.


Safety Note:


This technique is generally considered safe, but if you have any respiratory conditions or concerns, consult with a healthcare professional before beginning any new breathing exercises.


2. Diaphragmatic Breathing


Diaphragmatic breathing, or "deep belly breathing," is a fundamental practice that can lead to improved body awareness, fine-tuned respiratory function, and reduced anxiety. It engages the diaphragm, a large muscle located at the base of the lungs, which is an integral part of the respiratory system. This technique promotes relaxation by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, sometimes referred to as the "rest and digest" system. Here’s how to perform diaphragmatic breathing in detail:



Preparation for Diaphragmatic Breathing:


  1. Find a Comfortable Spot: Select a quiet, comfortable environment where you can relax without interruptions.
  2. Position: Sit in a chair with your knees bent, or lie flat on a surface, such as a bed or yoga mat, with your knees slightly bent and your head supported. If you’re sitting, keep your shoulders and neck comfortably relaxed.


Steps for Diaphragmatic Breathing:


Step 1: Hand Placement

First, let's place your hands properly. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your belly, just below your rib cage. This way, you'll be able to feel the movement of your diaphragm as you breathe.


Step 2: Inhale Through the Nose

Now, take a slow, deep breath in through your nose. Imagine you're trying to send that breath down to your stomach where your hand is. Your belly should rise higher than your chest hand, showing that you're breathing with your diaphragm. Picture your lungs filling from the bottom to the top, like a balloon slowly inflating in your belly.


Step 3: Pause

After you inhale, just pause for a second. It's a short rest before you breathe out again, just long enough for a smooth transition.


Step 4: Exhale Through Pursed Lips

Okay, now purse your lips like you're going to whistle and breathe out slowly. Press gently on your abdomen to help push out the air and really engage your diaphragm. The hand on your belly should move inwards now, but try to keep the hand on your chest as still as possible.


Step 5: Repeat

Let's keep this going for 5 to 10 minutes. The aim is to take about six to ten of these deep breaths each minute. This pace is really good for your heart rate and blood pressure. So, inhale through the nose, pause, exhale through pursed lips, and press on your belly. Remember, slow and steady.


Additional Techniques and Considerations:


  • Mindfulness: As you breathe, pay attention to the sensations in your body. Feel the expansion of the abdomen and the stillness of the chest. Notice the rhythm of your breath and any tension releasing from your body.
  • Consistency: For maximum benefit, make diaphragmatic breathing a part of your daily routine. Regular practice can enhance its effects on reducing anxiety.
  • Integration: Use this technique before stressful events, during moments of anxiety, or as a way to wind down before sleep.


Safety and Adjustments:


  • Consultation: If you have a medical condition, especially one that affects breathing such as COPD or asthma, consult your healthcare provider before starting a new breathing practice.
  • Comfort: If it's uncomfortable to breathe through pursed lips, simply focus on a slow and controlled exhale through the mouth.
  • Posture: Ensure that your posture allows your diaphragm to move freely. Slouching or tight clothing can restrict your breath.


Regularly practicing diaphragmatic breathing can lead to increased oxygenation, decreased stress levels, and improved overall respiratory and cardiovascular health. Over time, you may find that this method not only helps manage anxiety but also improves focus and emotional well-being.


3. Alternate Nostril Breathing


The technique you're referring to is known as Nadi Shodhana, or Alternate Nostril Breathing. It is a traditional yogic breathing practice that is thought to balance the body and mind. By alternately restricting airflow in one nostril, it is believed to harmonize the two hemispheres of the brain, calm the nervous system, reduce stress, and enhance cardiovascular function. Here's how to do Alternate Nostril Breathing with detailed instructions:



Preparation for Alternate Nostril Breathing:


  1. Find a Comfortable Seat: Sit in a comfortable position with a straight spine. You can cross your legs or sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Relax: Close your eyes and take a few normal breaths to relax and prepare for the practice.
  3. Hand Position: Raise your right hand, resting your index and middle fingers lightly on your forehead, or fold them down towards your palm if that's more comfortable.


Steps for Alternate Nostril Breathing:


Step 1: Block Right Nostril

Use your right thumb to gently close your right nostril.


Step 2: Inhale through Left Nostril

Inhale slowly and deeply through your left nostril, filling your lungs with air. Focus on the sensation of the breath as it enters your body, promoting a sense of calmness and filling your body with oxygen.


Step 3: Peak of Inhalation

At the peak of your inhalation, pause for a moment. This transition point is important as it helps to prepare the body for the switch.


Step 4: Block Left Nostril and Exhale through Right Nostril

Use your ring finger to gently close your left nostril, then release your thumb and exhale slowly through the right nostril. The exhalation should be smooth and controlled.


Step 5: Inhale through Right Nostril

After a complete exhalation, keep the left nostril closed and inhale through the right nostril. The passage of air through the nostrils should be quiet and gentle.


Step 6: Switch and Exhale through Left Nostril

Close your right nostril with your thumb, and exhale through your left nostril.


Step 7: Continue the Pattern

Continue this alternating pattern of breathing for 2-3 minutes. Inhale through the nostril that is open, switch nostrils, then exhale through the other side.


Additional Tips and Considerations:


  • Rhythm: Try to keep the duration of inhalations and exhalations even. With practice, you may also hold your breath for a few seconds at the top of each inhalation if it feels comfortable.
  • Focus: Maintain a gentle focus on the breath without straining the eyes or tensing the face.
  • Posture: Keep your shoulders relaxed and chest open to allow free movement of the diaphragm.


Closing the Practice:

  • After completing the practice, take a moment to breathe normally and pay attention to any changes in your mental or physical state.
  • Gently open your eyes when you're ready.


Benefits:


Regular practice of Alternate Nostril Breathing can provide several benefits, such as improved lung function, lower heart rate, and reduced stress and anxiety levels. It is a technique that can be practiced almost anywhere to restore balance and ease in moments of unrest.

As with any breathing practice, listen to your body and proceed gently, especially if you are new to this technique. If you experience any discomfort or have any respiratory issues, it's important to consult a healthcare provider.


4. Box Breathing (Square Breathing)



Box breathing, or square breathing, is indeed a powerful technique used to regain calm and focus, manage stress, and improve concentration. The beauty of this technique is in its simplicity and the fact that it can be done anywhere — whether you're at your desk, in your car before a stressful event, or in the quiet of your home. Here's a detailed guide on how to practice box breathing:


Steps for Box Breathing:


Step 1: Find a Comfortable Position

First, let's get you comfortable. Sit down with your back straight and supported. Place your feet flat on the floor if you're in a chair, or if you prefer, sit cross-legged on the floor. Now, just place your hands gently in your lap and relax.


Step 2: Inhale

Okay, ready? Let's start by letting all the air out of your lungs with a gentle exhale. Next, breathe in slowly through your nose while we count to four together. One, two, three, four. Feel your chest and belly expand as they fill with air.


Step 3: Hold the Inhale

Hold that breath in now, no need to clamp your nose or mouth, just hold it naturally for a count of four. One, two, three, four. Nice and easy.


Step 4: Exhale

Time to let that air out slowly through your mouth, counting to four again. One, two, three, four. Pay attention to how it feels as the air whooshes out.


Step 5: Hold the Exhale

Hold your breath out now, for another four seconds. Keep it silent and still. One, two, three, four.


Step 6: Repeat the Cycle

Great job! Now, keep going with that cycle. Breathe in, hold, breathe out, hold. Aim for four minutes or until you feel that sense of calm wash over you. Remember, it's like drawing a box with your breath—each side gets four counts. Take your time and enjoy the rhythm you create.


Tips and Considerations for Box Breathing:


  • Rhythm: The key to box breathing is finding a rhythm that is not stressful. If holding your breath for a count of four is too difficult, you can start with a count of two and work your way up.
  • Visualization: Some people find it helpful to visualize a box being drawn with each step of the process — inhale, hold, exhale, hold — to maintain focus and timing.
  • Consistency: Try to make box breathing a part of your daily routine. Consistent practice can make it more effective, especially during times of high stress.


Benefits of Box Breathing:


  • Stress Reduction: Slowing down your breathing can help decrease stress levels.
  • Increased Focus: This technique can clear the mind, improve focus, and increase alertness.
  • Controlled Response: By engaging in box breathing, you can gain control over your body's response to panic and anxiety.


Closing the Practice:


  • After completing your box breathing cycles, allow your breath to return to its natural rhythm.
  • Take a moment to notice how your body feels. You may experience a more relaxed state of mind and a decreased heart rate.

Box breathing is especially beneficial for those who have high-stress jobs, face challenging situations, or need to focus deeply on tasks. However, anyone can use this method to help manage daily stressors. As with any breathing practice, it’s important to approach the exercise without strain. If you have any health concerns, especially related to breathing, consult with a healthcare professional before starting a new breathing practice.


5. Progressive Relaxation Breathing


The technique you're describing is known as Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), a method developed by Dr. Edmund Jacobson in the 1920s. It’s a widely used technique for managing stress and anxiety, as well as helping with insomnia and chronic pain. The contrast between tension and relaxation helps to highlight feelings of warmth and heaviness, leading to deeper relaxation. Here's a more detailed guide on how to practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation:




Steps for Progressive Muscle Relaxation:


Step 1: Preparation

Let's find a quiet place where you can be alone and undisturbed. Make yourself comfortable—either lie down or settle into a cozy chair. Close your eyes; this will help you concentrate and block out any distractions. Now, just let your body begin to relax naturally.


Step 2: Starting Breaths

Take a deep breath in through your nose, hold it for a moment, and then slowly breathe out through your mouth. Feel the air leaving your lungs and imagine it's carrying away tension. With every breath, let yourself relax a little more.


Step 3: Tensing Muscle Groups

We'll start with your toes. Curl them as tightly as you can and count to five, then release. Feel that tension melting away? That's what you want to achieve. But remember, only tense the muscles you're focusing on—keep the rest of your body relaxed.


Step 4: Working Up the Body

Now, let's move up your body. Tighten each muscle group for five seconds, then give it a 30-second rest. Enjoy the feeling of release as you do this. We'll go from the muscles in your legs all the way up to your face.


Step 5: Breathing with Tension and Release

As you tense each muscle, breathe in. As you relax the muscle, breathe out. This pattern will help you get deeper into the relaxation, syncing your breath with the tension and release.


Step 6: Final Relaxation

When you've worked through all the muscle groups, come back to your breathing. Take deep, even breaths and picture a wave of relaxation flowing down from your head to your toes, leaving you totally relaxed. Just breathe and enjoy this deeply relaxed state.


Benefits of Progressive Muscle Relaxation:


  • Physical RelaxationM: PMR can help reduce physical symptoms of stress such as tension headaches, backaches, and stomachaches.
  • Anxiety Reduction: It can lower psychological stress and anxiety by helping the mind to focus and calm.
  • Improved Sleep: PMR before bed can improve sleep quality by relaxing the body and mind.


Tips and Considerations:


  • Regular Practice: Practicing PMR regularly can help increase the benefits over time.
  • Mindfulness: Pay attention to the contrast between tension and relaxation. This mindfulness aspect can enhance relaxation and provide insight into your stress and relaxation patterns.
  • Avoid Strain: If you have any injuries or pain, be gentle with those areas and avoid tensing them if it causes discomfort.


Closing the Practice:


  • Spend a few minutes just lying or sitting quietly, breathing naturally.
  • When you're ready to finish, count slowly from one to five and open your eyes.
  • Move gently, stretching your muscles, and take a moment to notice how you feel before getting up.


This relaxation technique can be particularly helpful in the evening to transition into a restful state before sleep, but it can also be a beneficial break during the day to reset your stress levels. Remember, PMR is a skill that becomes more effective with practice.

Implementing these breathing techniques can help you gain control over anxiety as it arises, promoting a sense of peace and well-being. Remember, like any skill, these methods take practice. So be patient with yourself and make them a part of your daily routine for the best results. Breathe your way to serenity, and watch anxiety diminish with each breath.

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The 4-7-8 technique is a breathing pattern developed by Dr. Andrew Weil based on an ancient yogic practice called pranayama. It involves inhaling for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 7 seconds, and exhaling for 8 seconds. It's designed to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety.