If you’ve ever felt anxious to the point of feeling like you’re about to lose it or panic attacks have become your thing, here are several breathing techniques that each have the potential to release the anxiety you’re feeling, instantly.
Forget medication and finding a therapist. These techniques work because they tap into the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which is our own built-in relaxation system.
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TECHNIQUE #1: The 10-Second Relaxation Trick
This first technique comes from the work of Steve Pavilanis and his book A Life Less Anxious (2009). I was drawn to this because it reminded me of something I’d forgotten my father had taught me when I couldn’t find sleep during exam time in high school.
This is a technique that Steve shares with readers suffering from a fear of flying, a fear of being confined in small spaces such as buses or trains, or more general panic attacks. It involves breathing in, muscle tensing and relaxing.
Here’s How To Do It:
- Take a deep breath in, filling your lungs deeply and hold it.
- While you’re holding your breath, aim to tense every single muscle in your body, from the tips of your toes, legs, up through your midsection, chest, neck, face, scalp, arms, hands, and fingers.
- Hold this “body squeeze,” while holding your breath, for 5-10 seconds.
- Then let go, relaxing every muscle in your body, while slowly exhaling.
I remember the first time I did this under my father’s instruction and was amazed at how the wave of stress and anxiety I was feeling at the time left my body…. And I was off to La-la-land in no time. Steve says that of the more than 1 million people he’s taught this to, most feel relief after just 1 round.
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TECHNIQUE #2: The 4-7-8 Relaxing Breath Exercise
If the idea of being in public and scrunching up your face and tensing every muscle in your body, similarly to The Incredible Hulk, makes you feel even more anxious then this next technique from Dr. Andrew Weil, the well-known American celebrity doctor and guru of “holistic health and integrative medicine”, could be the one for you.
Here’s How To Do It:
- Start by placing the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through this entire exercise. The idea is to exhale through your mouth around your tongue – try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound. Then close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Note that you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation but the absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is what’s important.
If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply.
Like Steve’s technique, this exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. Unlike tranquilizing drugs, which are often effective when you first take them, but then lose their power over time, this exercise is subtle when you first try it but gains in power with repetition and practice.
Dr Weil suggests doing it at least twice a day. In fact, he says you cannot do it too frequently. Just don’t do more than four breaths at one time for the first month of practice. Later, if you wish, you can extend it to eight breaths. If you feel a little lightheaded when you first breathe this way, don’t worry – it will pass.
Once you get used to this technique by practicing it every day, it will be a tool you’ll always have with you, to use whenever something happens that might potentially get the better of you – before you react. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension and to help you fall asleep.
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TECHNIQUE #3: Left Nostril Breathing
The third technique I’d like to share with you comes from Dr Kelly Brogan, a NYC based psychiatrist whose mission is to help women get healthy and happy – without drugs.
Left nostril breathing activates the Ida Nerve Ending in the left nostril, which relates to calmness and relaxation. Breathing through the left nostril for just a few moments is known to calm us and lower your blood pressure.
Here’s How To Do It:
- Sit in a comfortable upright position.
- Close your right nostril with your right thumb, while your other fingers are stretched straight up like antennas.
- Sit left hand is in your lap. Close your eyes and concentrate on your 3rd Eye – that place between your eye-brows.
- Begin to breathe long and deep only through your left nostril. Continue for three minutes.
I know what it’s like to suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. Mine have always had a sneaky way of descending at dusk… or during the middle of the night. But I’ve found that using one of these techniques always provides relief!