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Health and Fitness News

Breathe Easy

Six breathing techniques to bring calm in the midst of anxiety.

Your heart is racing, your breathing is shallow, your stomach feels sick, and you’re shaky. Anxiety is striking again. Sometimes it comes on gradually, other times it comes suddenly, out of nowhere. There may be situations or thoughts that trigger it, or you may just experience it for no apparent reason. Whether you have occasional mild anxiety or a diagnosed anxiety disorder, it can be hard to find relief.

One of the proven ways of relieving anxiety in the moment is through deep-breathing exercises. Shallow, rapid breathing that comes from your chest tells your brain to be on high alert, that something is not right, and to prepare for fight or flight. It’s what triggers the other unpleasant symptoms of anxiety. On the other hand, relaxed, deep breathing that expands your abdomen sends the message to your brain that you are okay. The result? You start to relax and calm down.

Not sure the best breathing techniques to use? Here are a few to choose from.

#1: Engage the Diaphragm

Proper breathing comes from deep in your belly, not shallow from your chest. To practice engaging the diaphragm, lie comfortably on your back and slightly bend your knees. Use a pillow under your head and knees for added comfort. Rest one hand on your chest and one on your belly. Inhale slowly through your nose and feel your stomach expand. Slowly exhale through pursed lips and tighten your ab muscles.

#2: Pursed Lips

In order to slow your breathing and focus your mind on proper breathing, breathe through pursed lips. Relax your body, close your mouth, and breath in through your nose for a two count. Then, purse your lips as if trying to whistle. Breathe out through your mouth for a four count. Feel your abdomen rise and fall with each breath.

#3: Equal Counts

To help bring relaxation, think about making each breath the same length. You don’t want each breath to be too long or too short, so make them last between three and five seconds. Inhale and exhale through your nose, pausing between each breath. Some people like to think of a square as they practice these breaths. Inhale down a side, exhale across a side, inhale, and exhale again, until you make your way around the square.

#4: Imagery

A fourth relaxing technique includes imagery. Focus on how you’re breathing, then practice deep breathing to make your abdomen expand. Sigh loudly as you exhale. As you inhale, imagine good thoughts and feelings coming in. Then exhale out the bad, anxious thoughts and feelings. If helpful, repeat a phrase such as “peace coming in, stress going out,” as you inhale and exhale.

#5: Muscle Relaxation

When you’re stressed and anxious, it’s likely your muscles are tense. This breathing technique combines the additional benefit of muscle relaxation to help your body relax mentally as well as physically. As you inhale, tense a muscle group. Hold it for a few seconds and then relax the muscles as you exhale. Start with your toes and gradually work your way up to your head. This is a great technique that distracts your mind from your anxious thoughts.

#6: Lion’s Breath

Kids may like the idea of the lion’s breath technique, though adults benefit from it as well. Breathe in deeply through your nose, keeping your mouth open wide and your tongue sticking out. As you exhale, squeeze your throat muscles and make an “ha” sound. It may feel strange at first, but it will keep you focused on breathing rather than your anxious thoughts.

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