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Breathwork to Reduce Anxiety

Updated: Aug 11, 2020

One big emotion that’s been flowing around the last few weeks is the Big A, Anxiety. During times of high stress, our bodies experience a physiological strain, where essentially our hearts and muscles have to work harder than they need to. Our body’s natural processes, like breathing, get constricted, lessening the healing functions of the nervous system and overworks our adrenal system. What all of this does is reduce the body’s natural flow of energy and resources, and puts you in a constant “flight or flight” mode, where your body has to decide where to expend its energy. Our heart rate, blood pressure, stress responses, and feel good hormones become compromised.

As anxiousness physically lives in our body, not only do we mentally and emotionally feel the repercussions, we also confuse our system. Staying in a state of anxiousness with an overactive sympathetic nervous system can be incredibly damaging to your health, even if it is a small amount of stress that collects over time. Stress suppresses our immunity, digestion, disrupts sleep and eating habits, impacts mood, energy levels, and much more.

An easy tool that anyone can use in times of high stress is breathwork. Yes, breathing. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention just recommended breathwork not simply as an immunity building tool, but also as a coping mechanism for emotional and mental wellbeing. Breathwork improves the body’s overall functions; improves the respiratory system, builds protective mucus in the nose, oxygenates and blood and brain, improves digestion, alkalizes the full body and much more. Different styles of breathwork send special signals for the body; some ask us to slow down and bring our bodies back equilibrium so that our body’s natural healing systems can be activated, and some ask to pump up and energize the body.

Studies show that over 50% of adults practice some type of shallow breathing, known as thoracic breathing. It’s when you breathe lightly into your chest instead of into your diaphragm. For example, if you notice how you’re breathing right now, you’re probably not breathing much at all. If you’re asked to take a deep breath, you’ll puff up your chest and shoulders - still a pretty shallow breath.

If you’ve ever seen a baby breathing or someone in deep sleep, you’ll notice that their bellies rise and fall; the oxygen goes directly into a natural deep belly breath. Us as adults, however, have become acclimated to holding our breaths without meaning to. When we can slow down and practice deep breathing we send physical and neurological signals through our entire body that asks us to rest.

Here are three breathing techniques you can practice to reduce anxiety:

Belly Breathing

This is a breath technique you can do anytime. Do this for at least 30 seconds all the way up to as many minutes as you want. It’s a great technique to practice before bed as well.

  1. Place your hands on your belly.

  2. Inhale through the nose and PUSH your hands away from the belly. Expand your stomach as much as possible.

  3. Exhale through the mouth and constrict your belly inwards.

  4. Repeat.

6-7-8 Breath

You can do this breath anytime of the day to calm anxiousness and stress, especially right before bed. It’s a self soothing practice that helps you relax and calm your system. It can be done sitting or laying down.

  1. Keeping your body gently relaxed, close down your eyes.

  2. Relax your tongue inside your mouth.

  3. Take a deep breath in through your nose for 6 seconds, expanding your belly and your chest.

  4. Hold this breath for 7 seconds.

  5. Exhale out through the mouth with a “whoooooossh” sound for 8 seconds.

  6. Repeat at least 5 times or up to a few minutes as you please.

You can adjust the sequence to accommodate your pace; try a 4-5-6 sequence, or 8-9-10 sequence. You’ll want to keep the inhales gentle and as silent as possible. Keep the exhale audible.

Box Breath

This is another technique you can do anytime and adjust the timing as needed.

  1. Breathe in for 4 seconds.

  2. Hold for 4 seconds.

  3. Exhale for 4 seconds.

  4. Hold for 4 seconds

You can play around with the timing for 6 seconds, 8 seconds, and so on.

Try out some of these easy techniques and let us know which is your favorite.

Breathing techniques are some of the easiest and most efficient ways to manage stress and anxiety. When we’re anxious, nervous, or stressed, our body gets a signal that we are not okay, and it actually suppresses our immune system, disrupts our sleep, and creates imbalances throughout the body. Most of us are also shallow breathers, meaning we’re holding our breath a lot without knowing it. This creates even more distress signals where our heart rate, our blood pressure, our feel good hormones, and more get out of balance. Breathwork coach Shanila explains how we can essentially trick our body into optimizing how it processes and manages anxiety with breathwork you can do anytime. Try out some of these breathing techniques and let us know which is your favorite!

Shanila Sattar is an integrative wellness leader in Los Angeles, a sound healer, breathwork coach, women’s researcher, and national speaker. She is the founder of AlwaysPlay Studios and Integrative Wellness Leaders based in Los Angeles and practices integrative wellness - considering a person's emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. She loves to mix the science and the woo in her practice and hopes that she’s able to reach people who may feel that wellness is inaccessible to them.

Her background is in tech, having co-founded an award winning web agency, and in women’s research, specifically in mindsets, implicit bias, perfectionism, women's health, and societal experiences supported through the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Health, and several universities. She mentors women who are wellness entrepreneurs and on their confidence journey. Currently she is co-producing a global wellness festival and mentoring wellness entrepreneurs.


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