Breathing techniques for anxiety are often recommended by therapists as part of our treatment of patients with anxiety, although we don’t completely understand how it works and the quality of the research is somewhat lacking.Breathing techniques for anxiety are simple to learn, can be used in multiple settings, and for multiple kind of anxiety. WIlkinson et al ( 2001)
Breathing techniques for anxiety fall under the category of relaxation techniques. They have their roots in eastern meditation and yoga. In the west, we started using breathing in  our therapy offices in the 70's.It is considered a  common treatment protocol for stress management and  general anxiety (Wiley 2012).
Three breathing techniques for anxiety are discussed here: yogic, boxed, and diaphragmatic breathing. But first, some facts might help explain why it’s a good choice as an intervention.

Why would breathing techniques for anxiety be helpful?

When stressed or anxious we restrict our breathing. This leads to reduction in carbon dioxide levels in the blood stream. Decreased carbon dioxide levels combined with the rapid and shallow breathing is interpreted by our body as signs of high stress or anxiety which often reinforces and prepetuates the cycle.
More facts about breathing techniques for anxiety.
  • - Chest breathing (shallow breathing) is noted during the fight/ flight response that is so common to anxiety. Both diaphragmatic and yogic breathing are breathing techniques for anxiety that reroute the way we breath from our chest to our belly (Tiwari, N., & Baldwin, D. S. 2012).
  • - During stressful and anxious situations, everyone is more prone to breathe in a shallower way (Tiwari, N., & Baldwin, D. S. 2012).
  • - Anxious people often have changes in breathing during negative emotional states. Teaching them to slow their breathing and move it into their belly can change their emotional state (Tiwari, N., &Baldwin, D. S. 2012).
  • - Additionally, “poor pulmonary functioning" is noted during “negative emotional states”  (Tiwari, N., & Baldwin, D. S. 2012).
  • - During shallow or chest breathing, there is an improper gas exchange (carbon dioxide to oxygen), and both diaphragmatic and yogic breathing seems to correct this ( Tiwari, N., & Baldwin, D. S. 2012).

Breathing techniques for Anxiety: Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is an easy -to- learn technique that is relaxing and calming.  Practice it twice a day for ten minutes when you are relaxed and calm, not when you are anxious.Later once you master it, you can use it to pair with an anxious  thought, experience, or feeling. It's a form of exposure therapy( Barlow and Craske ( 2007).

How do you do it?

  • - Put one hand on your chest and one on your stomach.
  • - Breathe normally and notice how your breath is often through your chest.
  • - Practice moving your breath down through your belly
(feel the movement of the breath through your hand)
  • - Imagine a large balloon in your belly filling up and then deflating
  • - Practice this kind of breath at approximately 8 to 10 breaths a minute.
  • - Do this twice a day for ten minutes and any time you feel tense or stressed.
  • - If you have panic disorder, this may not be the best exercise to practice, consult with your therapist

Watch a great video on how to do this Diaphragmatic breathing

 Breathing techniques for anxiety:Yogic Breathing

Yoga breathing is the other kind of breathing that has evidence for effectiveness.
Yogic breathing (Pranayam) involves control of the rate, depth and type of breathing and is considered to be an essential component of yogic practice (Tiwari, N., & Baldwin, D. S. 2012)”.Yogic breathing has positive health benefits for many groups of people. But more and better research is needed(Tiwari, N., & Baldwin, D. S. 2012).  Regardless, my clients who engage in this report tremendous gains.


How to Do Alternate-Nostril Breathing

One kind of yogic breathing is alternate nostril breathing or nadi shodhana. This breathing may induce a sense of calm and be good for anxiety.

If you want to try alternate-nostril breathing, here’s what to do:


1. Take a deep breath through the right nostril while

closing the left nostril with the left index finger.


2. Hold your breath for a count of 3, then release the left

nostril, close the right nostril and exhale. Then inhale

through the same nostril, and hold your breath.


3. Releasing the right index finger, press against the left

nostril with the left index finger again and exhale from

the right nostril. This is considered one breath count.


 4. Continue the above steps for 7–10 breaths or until

a sense of calmed energy is achieved  Wilkinson et al ( 2001)

Single nose breathing techniques

 These techniques may increase calmness.

Right Nostril Breathing

1. Close off the left nostril with the index finger.
2. Inhale slowly and deeply through the right nostril until
you feel a sense of fullness in the lungs.
3. Hold the breath for a count of three seconds.
4. Exhale slowly and completely through the right nostril.
5. Complete this cycle of breathing seven to ten times or

until a sense of being energized occurs.

Wilkinson et al ( 2001)

Left Nostril Breathing

1. Close off the right nostril with the index finger.
2. Follow the same procedure as for right nostril breathing
except breathe through the left nostril for a sense of
Research shows that practicing for 10 minutes brings the most benefits.
WIlkinson et al ( 2001)

 Other Kinds of Breathing Techniques for Anxiety

 Box Breathing for Anxiety

When you are scared or anxious and notice your are breathing too fast, boxed breathing and help you to  return your breathing pattern to a relaxed rhythm.

Sit upright in a comfortable chair. Place your feet flat on the floor.

Try to do this in a stress-free, quiet environment where your breathing can be the focus.
Keep your hands relaxed in your lap, face your palms upwards and focus on your posture.
You should be sitting up straight as this will help you take deep breaths.
Hold your breath for a slow count of four.
Breath out through your mouth for a slow count of four, pushing out air from your lungs and abdomen.
Be conscious of the feeling of the air leaving your lungs.
Hold your breath for the same slow count of four before repeating this process.

  • Tiwari, N., & Baldwin, D. S. (2012). Yogic breathing techniques in the management of anxiety and depression: Systematic review of evidence of efficacy and presumed mechanism of action. _Mind & Brain_, 3(1)Retrieved from

  • WILKINSON, L.; BUBOLTZ JR., W. C.; SEEMANN, E. Using Breathing Techniques to Ease Test Anxiety. **Guidance & Counselling**, _[s. l.]_, v. 16, n. 3, p. 76, 2001. Disponível em: Acesso em: 1 ago. 2022.

  • Mastery of Your Anxiety and Panic-Workbook (Fourth Edition), by David H. Barlow and Michelle G. Craske, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007), 212 pp., $29.95 paperback.

  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy : Core Principles for Practice (1). Hoboken, US: Wiley, 2012. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 4 December 2016.

Disclaimer: Medical information obtained from this website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.



Medical information obtained from this website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.


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