How to breathe "properly"
Updated: Mar 18
Deep breathing is one of the very best things you can do to ease anxiety. However, a huge number of people I speak to tell me that they "don't think they're doing it right", and have therefore yet to feel the benefits. In some cases, people find breathing exercises uncomfortable and even panic inducing.
With this in mind, I thought I'd outline the basics of how to breathe in order to relax and reduce stress, (which is frankly, something that a lot of us could do with right now).
5 useful things to know about breathing
Taking deep breaths can be extremely soothing to our nervous systems, calming down our minds and bodies and interrupting the production of stress hormones that make us feel on edge and cause the myriad of other anxiety symptoms.
Breathing with our diaphragm / right down in our stomach is extremely soothing and relaxing, whereas breathing deeply from our chest feels uncomfortable and can induce panic.
If you don’t tend to breathe with your diaphragm you can train yourself to do so quite easily but, like any skill, it takes some practice.
It’s easier to breathe with your diaphragm when you’re lying down on your back, so start off practicing for 2-5 minutes before you get up in the morning and then the same at the end of the day.
Don’t wait to feel particularly stressed or anxious to practice; you’re aiming to train your body to breathe like this naturally and so it really helps to practice regularly.
How to breathe diaphragmatically (i.e. from your stomach as opposed to your chest)
Place one hand on your chest and the other over your belly button
Before taking your first in-breath, make sure you have exhaled fully
Take a deep in-breath through your nose and then exhale through your mouth
Repeat this with the aim of feeling your stomach push your hand up as you inhale and down as you exhale
The hand that’s on your chest should remain as still as possible
It might help to visualize the air going in through your nose and then flowing straight through your chest and down into your stomach
Don’t force the breath, just allow it to happen naturally
Try to make your exhalations fractionally longer than your inhalations, as this is particularly soothing for your nervous system. So for instance, if you breathe in for a count of 2, then breathe out for a count of 3.
If you’re struggling to breathe from your stomach, it can help to place a rolled-up towel in the small of your spine
Practice this a few times a day for a few days and you should start to find it increasingly easy and natural to take these deep, diaphragmatic breaths and start to feel your body relaxing accordingly.
If you have any specific issues or questions, then do feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me on 07871 314030 and I'll see if I can give you any more specific advice.
Oh, and once you're happy that you're breathing deeply, then have a look at my video Breathing techniques for anxiety for some specific breathing exercises you can practice.