Feeling Anxious? Take a Deep Breath

By UB staff therapist Alyssa Yeo, LPC, CYT

The title says it all – the best way to calm yourself in anxious situations is to breathe.

As a clinician, I see a lot of individuals struggling to cope with their anxiety. I also have friends and family members who identify as “anxious people.” Heck, I myself have struggled with anxious thoughts and emotions. Let’s face it – our society is full of anxious people. The reason for this is beyond the scope of this article, but I will say that we can all benefit from having more tools and techniques to challenge anxiety and feel more in control of our emotions.

While there are a lot of resources available to help you manage your anxiety, it can be overwhelming to know where or how to begin. My intention is to give you a few basic breathing exercises you can use when you start feeling anxious. Your breath is the best place to start – and always come back to – when those physical or emotional symptoms of anxiety hit.

I encourage you to practice all three of these techniques and see which one works best for you. The more you practice them when you aren’t feeling anxious, the better equipped you will be to use them during anxiety-provoking situations.

Equal Breathing

This breathing technique is very basic, and can be done anytime, anywhere. It can be especially helpful before bed, if you’re having trouble falling asleep, or in moments when you may feel angry or out of control. Overall this breath helps calm the central nervous system, which increases your focus and reduces anxiety and stress.

  1. Inhale through the nose for a count of four
  2. Pause at the top of your breath
  3. Exhale through your nose for a count of four

(Note: you can exhale through your mouth if you have pent up anger you are trying to release)

Once you have the basic four count breath down, start to increase your inhale and exhales to the count of six, then eight.

Abdominal Breathing

Most people have forgotten how to breathe properly, and instead have shallow breath through their mouth making little to no use of their diaphragm. In this way, only the top of the lungs are used and only a small amount of oxygen is taken in. With deep breathing, you are not only increasing your intake of oxygen, but also preparing yourself for a practice concentration and meditation.

  1. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. When you take a deep breath in, the hand on the abdomen should rise higher than the one on the chest. This insures that the diaphragm is pulling air into the bases of the lungs.
  2. After exhaling through the mouth, take a slow deep breath in through your nose for 4 or 5 counts and hold it for 4 or 5 counts.
  3. Slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of 5. As all the air is released with relaxation, gently contract your abdominal muscles to completely evacuate the remaining air from the lungs
  4. Repeat the cycle four more times for a total of 5 deep breaths and try to breathe at a rate of one breath every 10 seconds (or 6 breaths per minute).

Once you feel comfortable with the above technique, you may want to incorporate words that can enhance the exercise. Examples would be to say to yourself the word, relaxation (with inhalation) and stress or anger (with exhalation). The idea being to bring in the feeling/emotion you want with inhalation and release those you don’t want with exhalation.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

In this breathing exercise, you inhale through one nostril, retain the breath, then exhale through the other nostril in a ratio of 2:8:4. One round of this type of breath has six steps (shown below). Start by practicing three rounds and build up slowly to more, extending the count within the given ratio.

With this style of breath, you use a mudra (or symbolic hand gesture) called the Vishnu Mudra. With this gesture, you use your right hand to close and open your nostrils. Tuck your index and middle fingers into your palm, and place your hand on your nose. The thumb should be by your right nostril, and your ring and little finger by your left.

One round of Alternate Nostril Breathing:

  1. Breathe in through the left nostril, closing the right with the thumb, to the count of four
  2. Hold the breath, closing both nostrils, to the count of sixteen
  3. Breathe out through the right nostril, closing the left with the ring and little fingers, to the count of eight
  4. Breathe in through the right nostril, keeping the left nostril closed with the ring and little fingers, to the count of four
  5. Hold the breath, closing both nostrils, to the count of sixteen
  6. Breathe out through the left nostril, keeping the right closed with the thumb, to the count of eight.



We are now accepting new clients for telehealth or in-person therapy sessions! Please give us a call (888) 726-7170 or email intake@urbanbalance.com to schedule an appointment today!