The best breathing exercises to ease anxiety

These simple exercises can help calm a racing heart

If you struggle with anxiety, you'll be all-too familiar with the feeling of your heartrate increasing and pounding in your chest, which may leave you feeling even more worried. This fight-or-flight response is a natural instinct whenever we feel fear, but if you often find yourself feeling breathless and anxious in everyday situations such as social events or a busy day at work, these symptoms can become a problem.

However, it is possible to shift your nervous system and slow your racing heart with a series of breathing exercises. Richie Bostock, The Breath Guy, shared some of his top techniques with HELLO! to allow us all to be a little kinder to ourselves during times of unease. Just take a few moments out of your day to practice these breathing techniques and you'll find yourself feeling calmer and more relaxed as a result.


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Feeling general anxiety

This technique will help to shift your nervous system from action mode to rest mode. It is called 1-2-1 breathing where the "1-2-1" refers to the length of each step of the breath which is 1 part inhale, 2 parts exhale, 1 part pause.

  • To start, put one or both hands over your belly button and when you breathe in, inhale through your nose and feel your hands rise a few centimetres and then fall a few centimetres as you exhale through the nose.
  • Try this gentle breathing rhythm - 3 second inhale, 6 second exhale, 3 second pause.
  • If that is comfortable you can even try and extend each part of the breath (so 4-8-4 or 5-10-5 etc).
  • Repeat for 5 minutes.

During a stressful day at work


This technique is wonderful for relaxing your nervous system using your own internal clock, your heart beat!

  • Find somewhere comfortable to sit and close your eyes.
  • Find your pulse on your wrist and start to breathe to the beat of your heart, making your in-breaths and your out-breaths last 5 heart beats each.
  • Breathe in and out of the nose, making your belly rise on the inhale and fall on the exhale.
  • Repeat for 5 minutes and notice how your pulse slows the longer you breathe!

When you are nervous

Here is a technique that was originally developed by Japanese Zen Masters but gained popularity in the West when it was discovered that Navy SEALS were using it before they went into battle to try and calm their nerves. It's called box breathing. The breath is broken down into four equal parts, like the sides of a square. The length of each part should be whatever feels comfortable to you. A good place to start is 5 seconds but you could make the lengths even longer if you like.

  • Start with empty lungs and breathe into your belly through your nose for a count of 5 seconds.
  • Hold your breath for a count of 5.
  • Exhale for a count of 5.
  • Hold your breath for a count of 5.
  • Repeat this pattern for at least 5 minutes or until you have felt yourself fully calm down.

Meanwhile, life coach Sloan Sheridan-Williams suggests people with anxiety practice breathing techniques as much as possible for them to be most effective, and recommends meditation and mindfulness classes as a way to regulate breathing and switch focus. "If a weekly yoga class works for you, put that in place. Alternatively if a daily morning breathing routine sets up your day, you won't be overdoing it," she told HELLO!. "Putting added pressure on yourself to do a routine a set number of times per week is counterproductive. Instead mix and match anxiety reducers that work for you and have a little fun with it."

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Sloan added: "It is important to apply self-care, whether that is creating a home spa environment, going for a walk in the park, re-framing anxiety into excitement, watching YouTube videos around the topic or working with a life coach or therapist to finally banish your anxiety once and for all. It's also important to put yourself first and carve out a little me time where you can."

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