1. Belly Breathing or Diaphragmatic Breathing
Shallow breathing can limit the diaphragm’s range of motion, which can make you feel short of breath or anxious. Shallow breathing can also push your nervous system into a “fight or flight” response, making you feel tense and anxious.
Here’s how to practice diaphragmatic breathing, according to stress and insomnia specialist Julia Kogan:
- Place one hand on your stomach and the other hand on your chest. Imagine there’s a balloon in your stomach that you’re filling (by expanding the stomach) and deflating (by gently contracting the abdominal muscles).
- Breathe in through the nose for a slow count of two. You should feel your stomach rise as you inhale. The inhale should be very calm and light. Imagine filling your nose over the slow count of two rather than taking it all in on the first count.
- Exhale even more slowly over a slow count of three. (Pursing your lips may help.) As you do so, you should feel the balloon in your stomach deflating. The hand on your chest should remain mostly still.
“Once someone is comfortable with this exercise, they can increase the time of the inhale and exhale slowly,” says Kogan. “I recommend starting with an inhale of two seconds and exhale of three seconds because it’s something everyone can do, even if they have different medical conditions that may make breathing difficult.”
2. The Humming Breath
Sattar, whose book Breathe covers 33 breathing techniques, recommends the humming breath for anxiety.
“The humming breath, or bhramari pranayama, is a technique that combines breath and vibration to ease tension in the body and mind,” she says. “The vibrations within this practice help recalibrate what’s overactive in the body while the breath itself activates the parasympathetic nervous system and tones the vagus nerve. It’s a great practice for any time of day.”
Here’s how to practice the humming breath, according to Sattar:
- Take a comfortable seat or stand with a straight spine.
- Breathe in through the nose for at least five seconds.
- With your mouth closed, hum as if you’re saying “hmmm” until you’re out of breath.
- Repeat five to seven times.
3. Pursed Lips Breathing
When you feel short of breath, pursed lip breathing helps to bring more oxygen into your lungs and calms you down, allowing you to have more control over your breath.
Here’s how to practice pursed lip breathing, according to the American Lung Association:
- Breathe in through your nose.
- Breathe out with pursed lips as if you were going to blow out a candle. Try to breathe out longer than your inhale.
- Repeat five to 10 times, stopping if you feel light-headed.
4. 4-7-8 Breathing
A technique created by Andrew Weil M.D., founder and director of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, this exercise can help calm your nervous system quickly. You can do this exercise either sitting or lying down.
Here’s how to practice 4-7-8 breathing, according to Dr. Weil:
- Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest.
- Count to four as you take a deep, slow breath from your belly.
- Hold your breath for seven counts.
- Breathe out for eight counts. Try to get all the air out of your lungs by the time you count to eight.
- Repeat three to seven times or until you feel calm.
- Take a few minutes to sit and feel the sensations in your body and mind before returning to your day.
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More Home Remedies for Anxiety
There are many ways to help yourself through occasional bouts of anxiety. In addition to meditation, tai chi and yoga, Dr. Kennedy recommends getting outside into nature when possible.
Meanwhile, Kogan suggests scheduling stress-relieving activities to make sure they happen. “When something isn’t planned, the chance of it happening tends to be low. So, it’s important for people to make time for activities they enjoy that relieve stress. This can include making plans with friends and engaging in leisure activities,” she says.
Kogan also recommends externalizing via journaling. “Externalizing our thoughts through journaling can be a very helpful way to reduce both stress and anxiety,” she says. “It helps the mind process stressful thoughts in an organized fashion, which leads to reduced stress and anxiety.”
Exercise is one of the best things we can do for physical and emotional well-being—and especially for managing stress and anxiety, adds Dr. Kogan, who also says improving sleep is another key way to keep occasional anxiety at bay.
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