Functional Nutrition

Deep Breathing Exercises for anxiety and nervousness


As many of you know,

I love sharing information! I think it is a great gift to be able to share one's knowledge to make the world a better place. So many of my clients ask fantastic questions. I love being able to answer and dialogue with my clients, and if I don't know the answer, I love doing the research I need to do to find out. Knowledge can be the difference between a dull life and a vibrant life. Sometimes all you need is a little piece of information to let other things fall in to place. 

I am a huge fan of meditation, breathing techniques, and yoga. I have practiced yoga for many years, and one of the most valuable lessons I have learned through my practice is how to breathe. It seems so simple and almost mundane, but our breath is always with us. It brings us  life, nourishes our bodies, and, if we know how to use it, it helps us to stay calm.

I had a client recently who was suffering from a bout of "jitters", as she called it. Basically, throughout the day, she would find herself feeling jittery and unsettled. We had a little discussion on how the adrenals play a major role in regulating feelings of calm or feelings of anxiety (look out for more info on this in another blog post), and I gave her a few breathing exercises she could do to help her adrenals re-regulate in these times of stress. This, together with her customized nutritional protocol, made all the difference.

After just 2 days she reported feeling much more calm and less anxious now that she had a few breathing techniques to use in times of stress. Breathing is an inexpensive (read: free), and inconspicuous way to help your body re-regulate in times of stress. Virtually no one notices your breathing pattern, and yet, you can powerfully effect your physiological reaction to stress with a few simple steps. The best part is that you don't have to be a yogi or a master of meditation to benefit from these wonderful exercises! So, whether you are practicing yoga in the grass under a big tree, stressed out in the office, nervously studying for a test, or simply need a little break, these exercises are for you.

Here are a couple of my favorites:

4-Count or Equal Breathing

This is a simple focusing exercise that focuses your mind and body on the same goal: counting to 4.

  1. Exhale completely through the mouth
  2. Take a slow, deep breath in through the nose to a count of 4
  3. Exhale slowly through the nose or mouth to another count of 4
  4. Repeat as needed

You can increase the number you count to for a more focused effect. In times of stress I have practiced equal breathing to a count of 10 on inhale, and 10 on exhale.  Start with a 4 count and work your way up to 6 or 8 and see how you like it. 

Square Breathing

This one is similar to Equal Breathing in that we use a 4 count to maintain focus on our breath, with the added component of "resting on"/holding your breath.

  1. Exhale completely through the mouth
  2. Take a slow, deep breath in through the nose to a count of 4
  3. Hold/rest on breath in to a count of 4
  4. Exhale slowly through the nose to a count or 4
  5. Hold/rest on breath out to a count of 4
  6. Repeat as needed

Some people like to add a mantra to this breathing technique to decrease stress by increasing awareness of gratitude.  To do this, think about something you are grateful or thankful for during each step of this exercise. For example, your gratitude list may look something like this: 

  1. Take a slow, deep breath in to a count of 4 "I thankful for my warm home"
  2. Hold/rest on breath in to a count of 4 "I am grateful for hot tea"
  3. Exhale slowly to a count or 4 "I am thankful for this moment of peace"
  4. Hold/rest on breath out to a count of 4 "I am grateful for my loving pet"

3 Part Breathing

3 Part Breathing is another segmented breathing pattern to help bring clarity and focus. Some people like to begin by placing the palm of one hand on their belly, and the palm of the other on their chest. If you want to remain inconspicuous, you can skip this step and just do the breathing part. I like to focus on a 6,2,6 count for this breathing technique, but you can feel free to lengthen or shorten the count to suit your preferences. The count is broken down in sets of 2, but this is a fluid breathing process (no stopping between counts).
     3 Part Breathing focuses the breath in 3 sections: your lower abdomen (belly breathing), your lower lungs/mid-chest, and your upper lungs/upper chest. By breaking the breath down through these 3 phases, you can increase a sense of calm and peacefulness.

  1. Exhale completely through the mouth
  2. Begin taking a deep breath in through the  nose, filling the lower abdomen with air (a 2 count)
  3. Continue filling the belly with breath, filling the mid section/lower rib cage with air (2 count)
  4. Finish the inhalation by filling the upper lungs/ribcage with breath (2 count)
  5. hold breath in for 2 counts, then begin to reverse the process for your exhalation through the nose
  6. Exhale from upper chest/ribcage for 2 counts
  7. Exhale from mid section/lower ribcage for 2 counts
  8. Exhale from lower belly for 2 counts
  9. Hold out for 2 counts
  10. Repeat as needed 

4-7-8 Breathing

This is one of my favorites! It is simple and effective, and you can modify it as you like. 

  1. Exhale completely through the mouth
  2. Inhale through the nose to a count of 4
  3. Hold breath in for a count of 7
  4. Exhale slowly through the mouth or nose to a count of 8
  5. Repeat as needed

I like this exercise because it helps to keep your focus on breathing and counting, rather than whatever is causing anxiety or stress. You can breathe in for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, then exhale for a count of 8, or pretty much any variation that you like just so long as your exhale is longer than your inhale.

I hope you all enjoy these breathing exercises! They have served me and my clients well over the years. You can use and repeat any of these exercises as frequently as you like. Be sure to let us know your favorites!