Facebook Twitter instagram Youtube

Best Breathing Exercises for Anxiety

Anxiety is an unfortunate reality in today's world. With the ever-growing competition, more and more people increasingly are suffering from anxiety attacks. So what exactly is Anxiety?


As per John Kennedy, M.D., a board-certified cardiologist, author and medical director of preventive cardiology and wellness at Marina Del Rey Hospital in California, Anxiety is a persistent feeling of nervousness, worry or unease, typically about an impending or forthcoming event or something with an indefinite outcome. Though anxiety can also occur even in the absence of a stressor or trigger.


Although occasional anxiety is quite common among people, prolonged anxiety is when one needs to worry as it adversely affects the mental health of the person. So, if one asks how to calm anxiety, then there are many exercises one can follow to curb anxiety, but out of all, breathing is the most powerful tool.


Breathing is considered the best way to calm anxiety attacks as it is closely linked to the nervous system. Therefore, when one regularly practices controlled breathing techniques, it helps alleviate anxiety to a greater extent. If one is unaware of the breathing techniques to use, here is a list of a few effective breathing exercises that help retain anxiety attacks.


Prolonged Exhalation


Taking deep and long breaths is one of the common things people do when they are anxious. But most of the time, they hyperventilate when they take too many deep breaths, which decreases the oxygen-rich blood flow to the brain. To avoid this situation, when anxiety attacks, push the air out of the lungs completely and let the lungs inhale the air on their own. After inhaling, take time to exhale the air out, i.e., inhale it for, say, four seconds and then exhale it for six seconds. Keep doing this technique initially for two minutes, then gradually increase it for five minutes. The best part of prolonged exhalation breathing is that one can practice it anywhere in any position one is comfortable in, i.e., sitting, standing, lying down or walking.


Diaphragmatic or Belly Breathing


Shallow breathing sometimes makes one feel anxious or short of breath; hence, it is advisable to practice diaphragmatic breathing as one of the breathing exercises for Anxiety. For this breathing exercise, place one hand on the stomach and the other on the chest. Now slowly inhale and expand the stomach as if there is a balloon in the stomach; now exhale by gently contracting the abdominal muscles. At the same time, doing this breathing exercise, breath in slowly with the help of the nose by counting up to two. Then breath out, i.e., exhale even more slowly in the count of three, and as one exhales, feel the deflation of the stomach as it releases the air it has inhaled.


4-7-8 Breathing Technique


The 4-7-8 breathing technique was created by the founder and director of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine situated at the University of Arizona, Mr. Andrew Weil, M.D. This exercise works well when a person is getting a feeling of nervousness as it helps in calming the nervous system quickly:


  1. Sit comfortably and place the tip of the tongue against the ridge, i.e. behind the upper front teeth. Ensure that the tongue is in the same position throughout the exercise.
  2. Keep the mouth close and inhale slowly through the nose for four counts.
  3. Hold the breath for seven counts.
  4. Then exhale the air entirely through the mouth for a count of eight by making a whoosh sound. 


This entire process becomes one breath cycle; repeat this cycle four more times. This breathing technique is a natural tranquillizer for the nervous system when anxious.


Alternate Nostril Breathing Technique


This exercise also called the Nadi Shodhana in Sanskrit, is known to help curb Anxiety and quieten mood and emotions. 


  • To start with, sit straight in a comfortable position.
  • Place the index and middle finger of the right hand between the eyebrows and plug the right nostril using the thumb.
  • Now inhale slowly from the left nostril at the count of four.
  • After the count, pause, plug the left nostril using the ring finger, and simultaneously release the thumb from the right nostril.
  • Now exhale slowly from the right nostril to the count of four and pause slightly afterwards.
  • Inhale slowly through the right nostril on the count of four and pause a bit after finishing the count.
  • Now plug the right nostril using the thumb and release the ring finger from the left nostril.
  • Slowly exhale through the left nostril to the count of four and pause a bit at the end.
  • Repeat the entire process alternating the breathing between the right and left nostril for at least five to six cycles.


Lion's Breath 


Simhasana, or Lion's breath, is yet another successful breathing technique used to calm the anxiety attack. In addition, it is a deep breathing technique that helps alleviate stress.


  • First, kneel, cross your ankles and rest them at the bottom of the feet. Alternatively, one can sit cross-legged.
  • Slightly lean forward with the hands on the knees or the floor and stretch out the arms or fingers as wide as possible.
  • Inhale with the help of the nose and exhale through the mouth
  • At the time of exhalation, open the mouth as wide as possible and stick and stretch out the tongue towards the chin.
  • Ensure that while exhaling, make or vocalize the 'ha' sound from the abdomen.
  • While exhaling, focus on the middle of the forehead, also known as the third eye. Alternatively, one can focus at the end of the nose as well.
  • Now, breathe normally for a few seconds.
  • Repeat the same process at least six to seven times 


These are some tried and tested how to calm anxiety attack breathing techniques. One should use multiple breathing techniques and see which technique/s works best. If the issue persists, seeking timely medical help and visiting an expert are strongly recommended. Anxiety attacks should not be taken lightly, and with the help of proper medical attention, one can get control back of life and lead a quality life.

Dr. Raman Sharma
Meet The Doctor
Back to top