In the United States, 40 million adults — or 18% of the population — are affected by anxiety disorders, making them the most common form of mental illness. The development of anxiety is complex with a set of risk factors. It can be challenging to wrap your head around, especially when you’re directly experiencing it. Anxiety is a chronic illness; those who suffer from an anxiety disorder are up to six times more likely to be hospitalized. Symptoms of an anxiety attack can include tense feelings, hyperventilating, sweating, excessive worry, and lack of sleep.
Although anxiety is highly treatable, only 37% of those with the condition receive treatment. What can we do when we feel like we don’t have any support? If you are battling whirlwinds of anxiety, there are practices that you can add to your routine that can help. One way to calm anxiety down is through mindful breathing. Here are some creative breathing exercises you can add to your self-care routine to help ease anxiety.
Rethink Your Exhale
Exhaling has an impact on our parasympathetic nervous system, which was a big role in helping our body calm down and relax. Instead of taking many small or deep breaths, which can lead to hyperventilation, try taking a different approach.
Before taking a deep breath, thoroughly exhale by pushing your lung’s air fully out and then letting your lungs do inhale naturally. After that, focus on exhaling a little longer than inhaling — four seconds inhaling and six seconds exhaling, for example — and repeating for up to five minutes. This technique can be used in the position of your choice, such as standing or lying down. You can also practice deep breathing exercises from breathwrk.com which are known to be beneficial for lung function.
Somato Respiratory Integration
Somato Respiratory Integration is a set of breathing exercises that harnesses rhythms of energy to help calm down anxiety. There are 12 total Somato Respiratory Integration (SRI) breathing exercises. These exercises help bridge the gap between your mind, body, and heart. If there are parts of your body that feel disconnected, SRI is a great way to turn them back online.
Somato Respiratory Integration is used in conjunction with Network Spinal, which is a holistic chiropractic technique. Both of these wellness practices tap into places of your body that are resourced. They utilize this resourcefulness to help parts of your body that are disconnected or not supported. SRI helps decrease anxiety by helping your body feel whole.
Mantra Focused Breathing
Anxiety can be reduced by taking time to focus and refine your deep breathing, and that is best done in a quiet place. Simply exhale and inhale normally and pay close attention to how those actions feel and where your body feels tense. When you take a deep, slow breath through your nose, note how your upper body and stomach expand, and then exhale in a comfortable way. Continue to pay attention to your body’s rise and fall.
Add extra calming elements to both your inhale and exhale. Pick a mantra or set of words to either focus on or say when you exhale that provide comfort — “safe,” “happy,” “supported,” for example — and then when you inhale make it slow enough to feel like it’s gently impacting your body. Importantly, picture your exhale removing any negative energy you’re holding onto. You can heal both your mind and body through mantra practices. Empower your being and know that you are supported through this breathing exercise.
Proper breathing is an intrinsic part of many forms of yoga. One form, pranayama, utilizes different variations on breathing to promote calmness. This includes a longer exhale and nadi shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing. Lion’s breath is one of the pranayama techniques and involves forcefully exhaling.
First, kneel, cross your ankles and rest your backside on your two feet (or sit cross-legged). Next, move your hands to your knees and stretch out your fingers and arms. Breathe through your nose, out through your mouth, and say “ha.” You’ll then exhale and while doing so, open your mouth as wide as possible, stick out your tongue and stretch it as far as it will go toward your chin. Relax your face during the inhale. You can repeat the lion’s breath technique up to six times per sitting.
When you breathe from the diaphragm, which sits just below the lungs, it reduces the level of work that’s required by the body to breathe, which can lead to less anxiety. You will be lying down on your bed or floor and placing pillows beneath your knees and head to work on diaphragm breathing. Alternatively, you can keep your knees bent while sitting in a chair and relaxing your neck, head, and shoulders.
Put one hand over your heart and one under your ribs and inhale and exhale through your nose. You are working to breathe in a way that moves your stomach, not your chest. Once you’ve found your diaphragm and know how to breathe from it, put one hand on your stomach and one on your chest Breathe through your nose and pay attention to the rise of your stomach, keeping your chest as still as possible. Exhale through the mouth while pursing your lips, focusing on engaging the muscles of your stomach so it can push the air out. Practice daily, trying it for 10 minutes and up to four times a day.
There is Power in Breath
Anxiety can be extremely difficult to calm down. Our nervous system can send us into a spiraling whirlwind of anxious thoughts and emotions. By harnessing the power of breath, we can relax our nervous system and become more grounded. As you slow your system down, anxiety will begin to subside. Consider trying breathing exercises next time you feel anxiety coming on. It is a powerful, natural tool that can help you decrease anxiety and enjoy everything that life has to offer. Experiment with different breathing exercises to find one that best fits your needs, style, and preference.