How to Use 3-Part Breath for Panic and Anxiety

Women breathing deeply, touching her chest and abdomen

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Panic disorder is an anxiety-related condition that is characterized by persistent and often unanticipated panic attacks. Such attacks occur seemingly out-of-the-blue when you are suddenly overcome by feelings of dread and apprehension. During a panic attack, uncomfortable physical sensations often begin to take hold. Some of the most common somatic sensations that panic sufferers endure include shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, excessive sweating, and even chest pain.

How Breathing Exercises Can Help Ease Anxiety

It is not uncommon for physical sensations to intensify during a panic attack, causing you to become increasingly anxious and fearful. Deep breathing exercises can help you to feel more calm and peaceful despite your unpleasant symptoms. By bringing attention to your breath, you may be able to focus it instead of becoming fixated on your panic-related symptoms. This can allow your mind to stay in the present rather than chasing worrisome thoughts. Breathing exercises can help you work through hyperventilation, which commonly occurs from overwhelming panic attacks and anxiety.

Although panic attacks typically reach a peak within 10 minutes before gradually subsiding, you may still feel the effects of the attack long after it has passed. For instance, you may feel keyed up or tense for the remainder of your day. Perhaps your attack also leaves you physically uncomfortable, such as with back or neck strain. Fortunately, practicing deep breathing exercises can also assist you with these common panic-related issues. Deep breathing is a form of relaxation that may help you let go of physical stress and mental strain that often accompany panic and anxiety.

How to Practice the 3-Part Breath

Now that you have learned about the benefits that focused breathing can have on panic and anxiety, it is time to get started with a simple breathing exercise. Known as “3 Part Breath,” the following exercise will allow you to breathe deeply, allowing your breath to slowly move in and out of the stomach, lungs, and throat. Read through these instructions at least one time first and then go ahead and practice on your own.

Start by getting yourself into a comfortable position. This may mean sitting upright in a chair with your feet flat on the ground, lying down on your back with your palms turned upward, or simply sitting cross-legged on the floor. You may want to try different positions to determine what’s best for you. Also, remove any restrictive clothing or jewelry, such as a belt, watch, or other heavy jewelry.

Once you have found a calming position, you can further relax through a few stretches and adjustments. Thoughtfully survey your entire body, noticing if there are any places where you are holding tension and tightness. Take a deep breath in and with a breath out, try to let go of some of those sensations. Roll your shoulders and your neck out a few times. Let go of any strain on your forehead, eyes, and throat. Close your eyes or look downward.

Now that your body is more at ease, it is time to center your attention on your breathing. First, simply notice your breath. Is it shallow, noisy, or inconsistent? Through observing your breath, you can begin to become aware of your natural breath.

After observing your natural breath, it is time to deepen your breath. You will be inhaling slowly, first bringing some air into your stomach, then the lungs, and lastly into your throat before exhaling all the breath out.

  1. To begin, gently place your hands on your stomach and fill your body with breath as you inhale. Imagine that you are filling your stomach with breath, causing you belly and hands to rise.
  2. Next, take more air in, imaging this breath coming into your lungs. At the same time move your hands up your body to allow you to feel your lungs expand.
  3. Last, place your hands onto your collarbones and allow your inhale to come into your throat. Hold for just a moment.
  4. Finally, exhale all the air out, imagining it leaving your throat, then the lungs, and last out of your belly.
  5. Repeat this exercise for 5-10 rounds of deep breaths.

Tips for 3-Part Breathing

  • Once you are used to what 3-part breath feels like, you can just rest your arms to your sides instead of on your body.
  • The steps here may seem long, but the actual exercise is quicker. You are breathing in deeply to stomach, lungs, and throat then exhaling from throat to lungs to stomach.
  • Try to practice this exercise once a day. When practiced regularly, you will be better prepared to use deep breathing whenever panic or anxiety symptoms strike.

By Katharina Star, PhD
Katharina Star, PhD, is an expert on anxiety and panic disorder. Dr. Star is a professional counselor, and she is trained in creative art therapies and mindfulness.