Breathing Techniques for Anxiety


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 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). There are two breathing techniques for anxiety that are discussed here: yogic breathing, and diaphragmatic
breathing. But first, some facts that might help explain why it’s a good choice as an intervention.

Why would breathing techniques for anxiety be helpful?


Consider these facts: 

  • 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 which 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 have the impact of changing 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 seem to correct this( Tiwari, N., & Baldwin, D. S. 2012).

In my work with children and adults for the last 21 years, I have been using diaphragmatic breathing regularly. I also know several therapists who have acquired dual certifications in yoga and therapy because they believe in the
connection so strongly.  Like all interventions, they need to be tailored to the client, but generally they are highly effective. The lack of research likely stems from the failure to attend to the connection between the
body and mind in our culture and our reliance on pharmaceuticals to treat any ailment.


Breathing techniques for anxiety: diaphragmatic breathing


To reiterate, all forms of anxiety can cause an increased rate of breathing, and specifically shallow breathing (short and through your chest) which can lead to an excess of oxygen. In the case of panic attacks for example, this
can lead to dizziness and lightheadedness. Diaphragmatic breathing is a technique that most people can learn that is relaxing and calming.  It  must begin to be practiced twice a day for ten minutes in the absence of
anxiety so the skill is acquired, and the body is relaxed. It helps with exposure to anxiety, because people are more likely to be able to face difficult and challenging events if their body is in a state of relaxation. When
faced with an anxious  thought, experience, or feeling, if your body is more relaxed, you are more likely to be able to engage it ( 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 noting by feeling the movement 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 fell tense or stressed.
  • If you have panic disorder this may not be the best exercise to practice consult with your therapist

Click here for a video 


Breathing techniques for anxiety :Yogic Breathing


“Yogic breathing (Pranayam) involves control of the rate, depth and type of breathing and is considered to be an important component of yogic practice (Tiwari, N., & Baldwin, D. S. 2012)”.

There are studies with yogic breathing that suggest that it has positive health benefits   for healthy people, people with health problems, and people with ocd and ptsd. As with other studies on alternative routes of
treatment, the research designs are somewhat flawed and more are needed (Tiwari, N., & Baldwin, D. S. 2012).  Regardless, my clients who engage in yoga report tremendous gains.

How do you do it? Find someone who teaches yoga and learn!



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.

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


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.