Part 4: Breathing and Relaxation


When an individual experiences #anxiety changes in the body take place, such as, increased heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. These changes in the body are all meant to prepare the individual to deal with the perceived threat and continue to remain elevated until the perceived threat is gone or the individual actively works at reducing these. This is where controlled breathing and #relaxation techniques can be very helpful in managing anxiety.


Controlled breathing is inhaling for four seconds and exhaling for four seconds. Your stomach area should expand when a breath is inhaled and should shrink when the breath is exhaled. Your chest should remain still while breathing. Relaxation should accompany the controlled breathing. This means focus on your body and relaxing each muscle. You have control over your breathing and the tension in your muscles. You can use this skill when anxiety is present. It tells your brain you are safe and no longer in danger because your body would not be calm if you were in danger. Your brain starts to pick up on this change in your body and slowly stops the anxiety response. Breathing and relaxation techniques are probably the easiest of the skills to understand and practice. It’s actually using these when they’re needed that is the challenge.


There are many ways you can use breathing and relaxation techniques to manage anxiety, such as progressive muscle relaxation, belly breathing, guided relaxation, and square breathing. There are many more techniques you could use for breathing and relaxation than the ones listed, but these are a few of my personal favorites.


Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is the practice of tensing one muscle group at a time followed by relaxation of that muscle group and then moving to a new muscle group. Typically this practice takes about ten to fifteen minutes and often starts at the lower part of the body and works up. Here is what you would do:

  • Start with your feet and tense this muscle group for five to ten second while inhaling. Then exhale and release these muscles.

  • Wait ten to fifteen seconds before moving to the next muscle group.

  • Continue this pattern until you have reached the top of your head.

  • Using a bit of mindfulness here might also be helpful by focusing on the way the body feels when it is tensed and relaxed.


Belly Breathing

Belly breathing is the process of inhaling air so that it pushes the belly out. You can practice this by sitting crossed legged on the floor or laying flat on your back. Place your hand on your stomach and watch your hand move in and out or up and down as you inhale and exhale. Practice this for about ten to fifteen minutes.


Guided Relaxation

Guided relaxation is following along with an app, video, tape or written script as it guides your body into relaxation. These work by starting at either the top or bottom of your body and moving through the rest of the body until it is completely relaxed. It is similar to progressive muscle relaxation except you are not first tensing the muscle group. Two apps that I typically recommend for people are the Calm app and the Stop, Breath, and Think app.


Square Breathing

Square breathing is a simple breathing exercise you can use to make sure you are inhaling and exhaling at an appropriate pace. Simply draw a square with your finger on your leg as you inhale and count to four, using one second for each of the sides, do the same as you exhale. You should practice this for about five to ten minutes.


What to learn more about anxiety and how to treat it? Check out my eBook, Conquer Anxiety in Ten Weeks: A Guidebook for Overwhelmed Women Who Dare to Be Fearless.

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Waupaca, WI  |  jessie@insightcounselingserviceswi.com  |  (715) 942-8292