Breath Practice to Help Manage Anxiety

This blog is the second in a series of two blogs focusing on how our breath can be a form of self-support when experiencing anxious feelings of fear, panic and worry.  In a previous blog, we considered the role of awareness in any breath work practice.  We also explored how breath allows us to find regulation within our autonomic nervous system.  Both blogs have been informed by the accessible books on the topic of breathing: Breath, by James Nestor and Close your Mouth by Patrick McKeown. In this blog, we consider three practical and simple breathing exercises that I’ve found beneficial for tapping into the power of the breath to aid emotional and neurological regulation. 

Attend to Posture

How we sit, stand and move our bodies impacts our breath.  A tight, restricted posture can result in tight and restricted breathing. A more open and relaxed posture allows for expansion that supports smooth and fluid movement of the breath within the body.  To support a more expanded state, aim for posture that is supportive of breathing by allowing space for the respiratory muscles of the diaphragm to expand.  If you notice your shoulders rounding and your bank hunching over, invite greater ease and expansion into your body.   Allow your body to do what it naturally does: breathe. Breathing can be well supported when your posture allows your spine to extend, with your shoulders back and without tension. Aim to notice ease in your body and to allow your posture to support efficient and effective breathing.

Slow Down

When we are relaxed, our breathing slows down. By slowing down your breathing, you can affect other bodily systems so that heart rate decreases, and cortisol levels drop.  

·      Find a comfortable sitting position, and place your feet flat on the ground. 

·      Let your breath flow as deep down into your belly as is comfortable, without forcing it.

·      Try breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.

·      Breathe in gently and regularly. Some people find it helpful to count steadily from 1 to 5. You may not be able to reach 5 at first.

·      Then, without pausing or holding your breath, let it flow out gently, counting from 1 to 5 again, if you find this helpful. In time, you can begin to slow down and extend the outbreath. 

·      Keep doing this for 3 to 5 minutes.

Square Breathing

This technique requires us to concentrate on our breathing and can bring a greater sense of balance and harmony. 

·      Begin by slowly exhaling all your air out.

·      Then, gently inhale through your nose to a slow count of 4.

·      Hold at the top of the breath for a count of 4.

·      Then gently exhale through your mouth for a count of 4.

·      At the bottom of the breath, pause and hold for the count of 4.

Photo by Engin Akyurt on

Find freedom from anxiety with breathwork

Take a Moment to Breathe and Put it into Practice.

So, in these times of economic uncertainty and elevated tension, attending to the breath can be a cost effective (i.e., free!) form of self-care and self-support, equipping you to find greater ease, calm and balance in your daily life. I’d love to hear if any of the suggestions here free you up to catch our breath, and breathe a sigh of relief during an otherwise hectic world.  And if you are curious to know more, I’d certainly recommend Nestor’s and McKeown’s books.


·      Gerritsen, R., & Band, G. (2018). Breath of Life: The Respiratory Vagal Stimulation Model of Contemplative Activity. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 12, 397.

·      Ma, X., Yue, Z. Q., Gong, Z. Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N. Y., Shi, Y. T., Wei, G. X., & Li, Y. F. (2017). The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 874.

·      McKeown, P. (2004). Close Your Mouth. Buteyko Books: Moycullen.

·      Nestor, J. (2020). Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art. Penguin Books: London.

Published by Claire Law

Qualified and BACP Accredited Preston-based Counsellor and Psychotherapist offering space for you to find freedom from what holds you back.

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