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I’m sure you’ve heard the recommendation to “just breathe” or “take some deep breaths” when feeling anxious or stressed. Maybe this advice has been said flippantly or harshly by someone impatiently demanding that you pull yourself together! Or maybe you’ve tried taking a few breaths and dismissed the idea. Deep breathing can be relaxing and regulating, and a good go-to when you’re feeling overwhelmed or on the verge of panic.

I’m going to briefly and as simplistically as possible explain how breathing calms you down, so hopefully you can start using this strategy in a kind and self-compassionate way to take care of yourself and regulate your body. Then I’ll talk you through step-by-step to practice.

Even by simply making the decision to deep breathe helps start the process of turning on your relaxation response (the parasympathetic nervous system), which reduces your heart rate and blood pressure and brings a sense of calm.

This breathing technique can be done anytime, anywhere, in public or home alone.

1. You can lie down, stand, or be seated, but if you’re seated be sure you’re sitting straight and your head is upright.

2. Imagine your abdomen is filling up with air like a balloon would fill up with water attached to a faucet. The bottom fills and widens first and then expands to the upper portion. This will help your body to relax and fill your lungs completely.

3. Next, blow out all the air in your lungs until you feel empty.

4. Then begin to breathe in and inhale evenly. You can keep it even by county until you feel full (3-6 counts) or by thinking a sentence in an even rhythm, such as “I notice I am breathing in. I notice I am breathing out.”

5. Fill up evenly and exhale evenly. Never take less time to exhale than you took to inhale. Your body needs time to exchange the oxygen and carbon dioxide, and inhaling too rapidly can make you dizzy.

6. Practice, practice, practice. Practice when you’re calm so that you can more easily access deep breathing in a panic.

You can start by practice a couple of minutes a day. Decide to practice whenever you are:

-stopped at a stoplight

-during commercial breaks

-in line at the store

-waiting for your computer to boot

Information from “The Anxious Brain: The Neurobioloigcal Basis of Anxiety Disorders and How to Effectively Treat Them” by Wehrenberg and Prinz


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