Stress and anxiety go hand in hand. Anxiety on its own can produce panic attacks for some people. Forty million people in the United States struggle with anxiety, and anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental illnesses, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), yet under 40 percent of those who have an anxiety disorder seek help for it.
Panic disorders are also fairly common affecting 6 million adults. Panic attacks are sudden feelings of terror where there is no cause for them. Some people feel like they are losing control. These types of attacks can occur at any time and any place without warning. People who have them may be afraid that a panic attack could happen again and will avoid the last place where they had an attack.
Anti-anxiety medication is one way that anxiety and panic attacks are reduced. However, you may not want to go on medication. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce anxiety and prevent panic attacks with known breathing exercises. We hope you will explore and even try some of these exercises when you begin to feel anxious about something or want to circumvent a panic attack.
All of the exercises involve deep breathing, which increases the oxygen supply to the brain and engages the parasympathetic nervous system promoting calmness. Breathing exercises connect your mind to your body and bring awareness away from stress. It quiets the mind.
Easy Breathing Exercises to Try
Abdomen breathing – This breathing exercise should help to create the feeling of composure, calm, focus, and renewed energy.
- Take a seat. Place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your stomach. Inhale through the nose, being sure your diaphragm and not your chest inflate with enough air to stretch the lungs.
- Exhale slowly through pursed lips. Repeat it three times and try to work up to six to 10 deep, slow breaths per minute for two to three minutes.
Resonant breathing– This breathing exercise reduces stress and raises your heart rate variability. It is also called coherent breathing. Resonant breathing is when you inhale and exhale to a count of five. You should be able to reach a breath rate of five full breaths per minute.
- Inhale to a count of five.
- Exhale to a count of five.
- Continue doing this for a few minutes.
Roll breathing – This exercise will help you use the full range of your lungs as you focus on the rhythm of your breathing.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent.
- Lay your left hand on the stomach and put your right hand on your chest. Focus on how your hands move as you inhale and exhale.
- Inhale deeply so that your lower lungs fill up. Your chest should not move.
- Do this eight to 10 times.
- Next, inhale into your lower lungs, and then continue to inhale into your upper chest. Breathe slowly and regularly. Focus on how your right hand will rise and your left hand will fall a bit as your stomach falls.
- When exhaling, make a whooshing sound. Notice how your left hand falls as you exhale, and then your right hand falls.
- Feel the tension leaving your body.
- Try this exercise a few times, noticing how your stomach and chest rise and fall like the motion of rolling ocean waves.
Morning breathing – As its name applies, try this one when you first get up in the morning. It relieves muscle stiffness and clears clogged breathing passages. You can also use this breathing exercise throughout the day as needed to stay calm and relieve back tension.
- Stand up. Bend from the waist with knees slightly bent. Let your arms dangle to the floor.
- Inhale slowly and deeply as you roll up slowly to a standing position, being sure to lift your head last.
- Hold your breath for a few seconds while standing.
- Exhale slowly as you return to the bending position, being sure to bend forward from the waist.
Paced Breathing – This breathing exercise entails inhaling for two to four seconds and exhaling for four to six seconds. Always be sure you are exhaling longer than you are inhaling.
- Focus on a specific object, such as a picture, or on a sound or image. This should keep you from becoming distracted.
- Start by taking a normal breath and then a deep breath. Inhale slowly through the nose and exhale slowly through pursed lips.
- If your mind wanders, refocus on the object, sound, or image. You can count out the seconds of your exhaling.
Alternate-nostril breathing – This exercise entails closing one nostril at a time as you breathe through the other, switching between nostrils in a regular pattern. Try this one sitting up and maintaining good posture. It might seem a little awkward at first, but give it a try.
- Open your right hand and then bend your pointer and middle fingers into the palm. Leave your thumb, pinky, and ring finger extended.
- Close your eyes to softly look downward.
- Begin to inhale and exhale.
- Close your right nostril with your thumb.
- Inhale through the left nostril.
- Then close your left nostril with your ring finger.
- Open the left nostril with your ring finger and exhale.
- Inhale through the right nostril.
- Then close the right nostril with your thumb.
- Exhale through the left nostril. working u
- Try this exercise a few times, working up to 10 times.
Box breathing – Also called four-square breathing, this exercise entails exhaling to a count of four and holding your lungs empty to a count of four. The four-square aspect of this stems from visualizing four sides of a box changing color one after the other. It can also be rhythmic breathing, as in breathing to a rhythm.
- Exhale all of the air from your lungs to the count of four.
- Keep the lungs empty for a count of four.
- Inhale to a count of four.
- Keep the lungs full to a count of four.
Lion’s breathe – This one involves sticking your tongue out and roaring like a lion as you inhale and exhale. It relaxes the jaw and face muscles.
- Find a comfortable seat and sit leaning forward a little with your hands on your knees.
- Spread your fingers as wide open.
- Inhale through your nose.
- Open your mouth wide open, stick out your tongue, and stretch it toward your chin.
- Exhale forcefully; being sure your breath goes across the root of your tongue.
- When exhaling, make a hard “ha” sound bringing it from deep in the abdomen.
- Breathe normally for a few minutes.
- Repeat the steps above up to six or seven times.
The American Institute of Stress suggests a few tips to fit relaxation and breathing exercises into your busy life.
- Schedule a set time every day to practice deep breathing and relaxation exercises.
- Avoid practicing deep breathing or relaxation exercises when you are tired or feeling sleepy.
- Find other times or places to practice deep breathing, such as when you are commuting to work via train or bus or doing housework.
- Ten to 20 minutes a day is best for deep breathing and relaxation exercises.
Does Breath Control Help Panic Attacks?
Panic attacks can cause you to feel overwhelming fear, make your heart pound, make you sweat, and feel like you can’t breathe. Some people hyperventilate when having a panic attack. Hyperventilation is rapid or deep breathing caused by anxiety or panic. Normal breathing involves inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide. Hyperventilation can lead to low levels of carbon dioxide in your blood, which may cause you to have shortness of breath, dizziness, weakness, or numbness in the arms, as Johns Hopkins Medicine notes.
Many times, people will tell someone who is having a panic attack and hyperventilating to relax and breathe slowly and deeply. Breathing exercises can help you if you hyperventilate; however, you must breathe slowly using your diaphragm and abdomen and not your chest. If you are having a panic attack and not hyperventilating, you might try some relaxation techniques. If a friend or family member is with you, they can remind you in a soft, relaxed tone of voice that you are okay; you are doing fine, or something reassuring like that. Hopefully, this will calm you down and you will start to feel better.
Why Drugs or Alcohol Won't Help Ease Anxiety
Drugs or alcohol might seem like they are initially easing your anxiety symptoms, but if so, it is short-loved. Many times, people might self-medicate their feelings of anxiousness or panic. Both drugs and alcohol last for a short time in our system leading to more anxiousness when the effects wear off. Also, many anti-anxiety medications caution against combining alcohol and the medicine, as both are central nervous system depressants which, if used together, could result in passing out.
Vista Pines Health, a mental health disorder facility in South Florida, treats those with anxiety and panic disorders. There are several very effective therapies that can help you learn how to manage anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy is most commonly utilized as it focuses on replacing negative feelings with positive ones. This therapy type also encourages you to face your fears and not avoid them. You will learn how to change harmful behavioral patterns and gain a greater sense of confidence. Substance use is not useful in easing the causes and symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks. When you gain new skills in learning how to manage stress and anxiety, you will have a stronghold on your life, and all that affects it.