In case of emergency: two quick and effective breathing exercises for anxious moments

by Jay Hiller, September 7, 2022

breathing exercises for anxious moments
Breathing exercises are free and may help during times of anxiety or stress. Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

There’s no question: anxiety stinks. Many years ago, I learned a number of breathing exercises that help me with mine. We’re told by yoga traditions that controlling and manipulating our breath activates a vital energy called prana. Another way of thinking about breathing exercises is that we can use them to manipulate our neurological systems, much in the same way that people do when they drink coffee or have a glass of wine. Today I’ll share two of my favorites. These exercises work for me and they happen to be simple enough to explain without demonstration.

Prolong the exhalation: Slowly breathe in as you mentally count to 4 and slowly breathe out as you mentally count to 6. Do this until you feel better or you get through at least 9 breath cycles. (I don’t know the reason for nine. It’s just what I do.) The explanation I’ve heard for the effectiveness of this exercise is that the prolonged exhalation signals to your body that you’re not in physical danger and it can stop dumping stress hormones.

Top off the gas tank: Take a deep breath in. Then breathe in a little bit more as if you were topping off a gas tank. Breathe completely. Repeat up to 3 times. The explanation I was given for this exercise is that it snaps open the little air sacs in our lungs, similarly to the way that we naturally stimulate them to do many times a day.

Of course, these exercises are not a substitute for medical advice or counseling. And I hope you’ll try these exercises and see if they work for you. As I said, simple and free.

What gave me the idea for this post?

I’ve enjoyed reading CharmCitizen’s blog about her life as a working mom in Baltimore. She had a post today about fear of flying and I was wishing I could tell her what I thought might help. Generally, I enjoy reading her blog because my adult daughter lives in Baltimore. And I look back fondly at my time as the mom of two school aged children. The blog I’m referring to is here:

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