woman breathing to relax

3 Simple Breathing Exercises to Reduce Anxiety

Breathing is my favorite strategy for anxiety and stress relief.

It’s quick, easy, free, and you can do it anywhere.

I’m going to teach you three very simple breathing exercises to reduce anxiety, but you don’t actually need any particular technique to relieve stress.

You can simply slow down, breathe deeply and fully.

The additional oxygen can help lower blood pressure and heart rate. 

There’s really no wrong way to utilize breathing to reduce anxiety and stress, so don’t get hung up on doing it “right”.

You can always start by simply taking slow, deep breaths in the grocery store line or between test questions.

3 Simple Breathing Exercises to Reduce Anxiety

Breathing Exercises to Reduce Anxiety and  Stress

Box breathing

Box breathing is also known as 4×4 breathing.

Inhale through your nose for the count of 4.

Hold your breath for the count of 4.

Exhale through your mouth for the count of 4.

Hold your breath for the count of 4.

Repeat the entire process 4 or 5 times.

Breathe like a baby

This can take some concentration at first, but you’ll quickly get the hang of it.

Place your hand over your diaphragm (abdomen) and align your breathing with it. As you inhale, watch your diaphragm rise. As you exhale, watch your diaphragm fall.

Tense and release

As you breathe deeply, progressively tense and release each of your muscles. Start with your toes, then your feet, calves, etc. Gradually move up the body tensing and releasing. each set of muscles.

This adds a physical element that is great for reducing stress and bringing awareness to where you’re holding stress in your body.

I like to do this lying down, but it can also be done sitting or standing.

Tips to increase relaxation

These are some general tips for increasing the effectiveness of relaxation breathing exercises.

  • Try closing your eyes. This helps you focus and eliminate distractions.
  • Count your breaths. This will help you slow down and refocus away from your stressors.
  • Breath in so long that it starts to feel uncomfortable. Repeat as you breath out.
  • Visualize a safe, calm, pleasant place. Focus on how it looks, smells, feels.
  • Turn on some soothing background music.
  • Sit or stand up as tall as possible. Pull the crown of your head toward the ceiling/sky.
  • Experiment with being inside or outside and discover if one is generally more calming.

In addition, please sign-up below for access to my free resource library. There you’ll find additional tools, including guided meditations to help reduce stress and anxiety.

Read more about managing stress and anxiety

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Sharon Martin, DSW, LCSW is a psychotherapist and author specializing in codependency recovery. For the past 25 years, she’s been helping people-pleasers, perfectionists, and adult children overcome self-doubt and shame, embrace their imperfections, and set boundaries. Dr. Martin writes the popular blog Conquering Codependency for Psychology Today and is the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism and The Better Boundaries Workbook.

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