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4 Mindful Breathing Exercises to Calm Anxiety, Gain Energy

Mindful breathing is a simple and powerful tool for enhancing mental health and wellbeing. While this may seem strange, mindful breathing can help anxiety in two opposing ways: It can calm the nervous system, so we feel less anxious, and it can also lead to increased energy. Breathing mindfully can both calm us down and pep us up, countering two frustrating effects of anxiety. Add these four mindful breathing exercises to your daily life for positive, anxiety-reducing benefits.

What Is Mindful Breathing; Why Do It?

Mindful breathing simply means paying attention to your breath. Concentrating on the act of breathing helps pull your attention away from the racing, negative thoughts of anxiety and onto what you are doing right now, in the present moment. Changing the way you breathe also directly and immediately impacts your autonomic nervous system, turning off the sympathetic nervous system's fight-or-flight reaction and turning on the parasympathetic nervous system's rest-and-digest response. In this way, mindful breathing induces feelings of calm centeredness. 

While mindful breathing is calming, it can also be energizing. In the last post, I explored why anxiety is exhausting. Anxiety zaps our energy and causes fatigue because it keeps the sympathetic nervous system chronically activated, robs us of quality sleep, and taxes the brain's energy supply, including oxygen. Intentionally working with your breath can counter all of these negative effects of anxiety by bathing your entire being with oxygen, balancing carbon dioxide levels, and maintaining proper nervous system functioning. 

Building a collection of different breathing exercises can help you maintain the upper hand on both mood and energy. Here are four.

4 Mindful Breathing Exercises to Reduce Anxiety, Boost Energy

These techniques come from yoga and general breathwork. They're helpful for anxiety and for maintaining mental health in general. As you engage in these exercises, you can sit or lie in a comfortable position, or you can do them as you stand (perhaps in a frustratingly long line). Close your eyes or simply soften your gaze to look down or at a neutral object. 

  1. 4-2-6 breathing--In this exercise, you breathe slowly and deeply, with your exhale a bit longer than your inhale. A longer exhale is believed to stimulate the vagus nerve to help encourage and maintain activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. Holding your breath briefly between inhales and exhales also encourages a calm response in the body. Inhale through your nose deeply to a gradual count of four, feeling your belly expand. Pause for a slow count of two, and notice how your whole torso feels as it holds the air. Exhale slowly through your nose or mouth as you slowly count to six. Pay attention to the sensation of your belly contracting.  Again pause for two counts and notice the feel of your body before beginning the cycle again. Do this for five or 10 cycles, or set a timer for one to 15 minutes, depending on the amount of time you have to do this. 
  2. Ocean breath--Here, you mimic the sound of ocean waves flowing in and out, and you turn your attention to both the sound and feel of your breath as you do this exercise. Place the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth slightly behind your front teeth. During your inhales and exhales, constrict your throat slightly as if you were whispering or fogging up a mirror. Inhale and exhale smoothly and rhythmically, breathing in slowly until your belly fills and exhaling slowly until it empties completely. You'll notice a quiet but distinct sound that is a bit reminiscent of the sound of the ocean. 
  3. Alternate nostril breathing--In this exercise, you're stimulating each hemisphere of the brain and branch of the vagus nerve, one side at a time. This is thought to be both balancing and energizing. To do this mindful breathing exercise, place the thumb and a finger lightly against your nose (you can use either your left or right hand). Gently close one nostril with your thumb and inhale through the other nostril slowly and deeply. At the top of your breath (when you've completed your inhale), pause and switch, releasing the nostril you had covered with your thumb and gently closing the other nostril with your finger. Exhale slowly and completely through the now-open nostril. When you've exhaled fully, inhale again through the same open nostril. At the top, switch again and exhale through the other side. Repeat this pattern. 
  4. Breath of fire--This stimulating breath ignites feelings of energy to combat anxiety-related fatigue. With your back straight, place both hands gently over your lower abdomen. The emphasis is on your exhale. Breathe out quick, sharp exhalations as if you are forcefully blowing out candles one at a time. To avoid becoming lightheaded, pause and return to normal breathing between repeated bursts of exhaling.

Establishing a daily breathing routine helps your breathwork practice be most effective. The effects of regular mindful breathing exercises accumulate over time to keep you feeling centered and both calm and energized. Add a breathing session to an already-established routine (perhaps your morning or evening routine) to help make it a regular habit. You can also do this at any time during your day when you need to immediately calm your nervous system and reduce the negative effects of anxiety. Mindful breathing can be an important addition to your anxiety-reducing toolbox. 

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2021, June 17). 4 Mindful Breathing Exercises to Calm Anxiety, Gain Energy, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, July 26 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2021/6/4-mindful-breathing-exercises-to-calm-anxiety-gain-energy



Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC, DAIS

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of numerous anxiety self-help books, including The Morning Magic 5-Minute Journal, The Mindful Path Through Anxiety, 101 Ways to Help Stop Anxiety, The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal, The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, and Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps. She has also written five critically acclaimed, award-winning novels about life with mental health challenges. She delivers workshops for all ages and provides online and in-person mental health education for youth. She has shared information about creating a quality life on podcasts, summits, print and online interviews and articles, and at speaking events. Tanya is a Diplomate of the American Institution of Stress helping to educate others about stress and provide useful tools for handling it well in order to live a healthy and vibrant life. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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