How Do I Practice Deep Breathing for Anxiety?

Tips for Practicing Diaphragmatic Breathing for Social Anxiety

Use deep breathing to reduce anxious thoughts.
Deep breathing can help to quell anxiety. Getty / Dorling Kindersley / John Freeman

Diaphragmatic breathing, or deep breathing from the diaphragm rather than the chest, is a way to relax and reduce anxiety of various kinds. Although we are all capable of breathing this way, very few of us do so on a daily basis in our everyday activities.

Practice this breathing pattern while you are in a relaxed and safe environment at home. This way, you will be more likely to use this technique when faced with situations that trigger the symptoms of social anxiety disorder (SAD).

Importance of Deep Breathing

Deep breathing helps you to avoid the "fight-or-flight" response to stressful situations. In these situations, your body's automatic systems are on high alert, and signal your heart to beat faster and breathing rate to increase. By consciously becoming aware of your breathing and regulating its depth and rate, the likelihood of spiraling into a panic or anxiety attack is lowered.

How to practice diaphragmatic breathing

For those who suffer with medical conditions, consult with your doctor prior to beginning any type of relaxation training exercise.

  1. Find a quiet place free of distractions. Lie on the floor or recline in a chair, loosen any tight clothing and remove glasses or contacts. Rest your hands in your lap or on the arms of the chair.
  2. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other hand on your stomach. Inhale, taking a deep breath from your abdomen as you count to three. As you inhale you should feel your stomach rise up. The hand on your chest should not move.
  3. After a short pause, slowly exhale while counting to three. Your stomach should fall back down as you exhale.
  4. Continue this pattern of rhythmic breathing for five to ten minutes.

In addition to following these instructions, consider listening to a voice recording such as the free MP3 audio file offered by McMaster University which includes directions on practicing diaphragmatic breathing. Use of an audio recording allows you to fully relax and concentrate on the technique.

Obstacles to Practicing Deep Breathing

If you find that you return to shallow breathing despite practicing deep breathing, it could be that you need more practice in different situations. Try taking a yoga class that encourages deep breathing or sign up for a mindfulness meditation course. Using various strategies that incorporate deep breathing will give you more chances to practice and begin to master the art of it.

Musicians and Deep Breathing

Singers are taught to breathe deeply while singing to improve the sound of their voice and to carry a tune without breaking in the middle. By the same token, singers and musicians who play wind instruments who also live with social anxiety may benefit from practicing deep breathing in the context of anxiety reduction.

Related Relaxation Exercises

Various relaxation techniques can be used alongside deep breathing, such as progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, and autogenic training. If deep breathing alone does not seem to improve your anxiety, consider reading about and practicing these other techniques. You might even find an online or local therapist who can guide you through these types of exercises.

A Quick Five-Minute Breath Exercise

Now that you've got the hang of how to breathe deeply, set your phone to go off once a day at a convenient time. When the alarm goes off, that is your signal to practice deep breathing for five minutes. After the five minutes are up, see if you feel more relaxed and less anxious. Over time, it should become more natural to breathe this way all of the time.

A Word From Verywell

Breathing deeply from your diaphragm is a learned skill. Although as babies we all do this instinctively, with time those with anxiety tend to breathe more shallowly from the chest. If after practicing deep breathing you still feel severe anxiety, consider consulting a mental health professional or medical doctor for assessment and treatment.

Sources:

Harvard Medical School. Take a Deep Breath

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