When we are stressed and have tension in our bodies, our breathing becomes more rapid and shallow. This exercise allows the diaphragm – muscles that separate the abdomen from the chest cavity – to move downwards triggering our body’s normal relaxation response.  Here is breathing exercise you can try (adapted from: Bourne, E., The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, 2005):

  1. Follow the relaxation techniques discussed previously.
  2. Place one hand on your abdomen underneath your rib cage, and the other on your chest. Monitor your natural breath for a few minutes.
  3. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose by a count of four, so that the air fills the lower part of your lung. You will feel your hand on your abdomen As your lung continues to fill with air, your chest should only slightly move.
  4. Pause and hold your breath for a few seconds (count of four).
  5. Exhale slowly through your nose or mouth and completely empty your lungs (count of eight). As you exhale, visualize your body becoming relaxed.
  6. Repeat the steps and complete ten slow diaphragm breathing (1 set). You may wish to extend this exercise by completing 2-3 sets or for 5-minutes.

If you feel light-headed or dizzy, breathe normally for 30-seconds and resume the exercise. Be sure to keep your breathing regular and smooth without gulping in air. Once you have mastered this skill, this exercise is particularly effective at reducing early symptoms of panic and anxiety.