These days, it seems like stress and anxiety are a daily part of life. When you experience anxiety or high-stress situations, your body thinks it's being attacked and falls back on its primal instincts—your sympathetic nervous system. Your heart pounds, you breathe faster, adrenaline floods your system, and any functions that aren't essential to your survival get shut down—like digestion. This is known as the fight-or-flight response, even though you're not actually in a near-death situation.
If you experience anxiety, you're not alone. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, about 40 million Americans age 18 years and older are living with anxiety. This equates to approximately 18 percent of the population. Breathing exercises, particularly deep breathing, can help counteract the effect of stress and anxiety. Not only does deep breathing bring more oxygen into your system, but it also forces your body and mind to slow down by activating your parasympathetic nervous system, which is known as your rest and digest system.
Here are four common anxiety-ridden situations, and breathing exercises for anxiety you should try:
An Important Presentation or Meeting
If the thought of walking out in front of an audience or into your boss's office makes you feel slightly nauseous and your palms sweat, you're not alone. We've all been there. To ease your anxiety, try using a GIF. No, we're not talking about cat GIFs. There are a number of GIFs that are designed to facilitate breathing exercises for anxiety. They're a visual guide that can help walk you through different breathing relaxation techniques. You can even save them on your phone and cue them up right before walking out on stage or into your meeting.
Race or Game-Day Jitters
Sometimes the fight-or-flight response is a good thing to experience before a race or big game. Your blood is pumping and you're ready to compete. Unfortunately, it can also lead to poor performance. To calm your nerves, try a body scan. Lay on your back and close your eyes. Start to breathe deeply and notice the gentle rise and fall of your belly. Slowly start to scan your body from your head to your toes. Notice how they feel (Warm? Cold? Tense?) and relax the areas that are holding stress.
Lying in bed for hours and not being able to fall asleep might be one of the most frustrating feelings in the world. Instead of nodding off, your mind spins in circles, running through your to-do list, the latest headlines, or even that pesky problem at work. To calm yourself, try the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Inhale until you count to four, hold your breath in until you count to seven, and then slowly exhale your breath until you count to eight. This may seem like an arbitrary number combination, but proponents claim that doing this simple breathing exercise will help you fall asleep like magic.
It's crunch time, and you've been putting off that assignment or report all week. Now it's time to sit down and work, but instead of motivating you, your upcoming deadline makes you feel paralyzed. To relax, sit in a quiet place and close your eyes. Inhale until you count to four and exhale until you count to four. Repeat this routine for several rounds. Not only does this exercise help facilitate deep breathing, but the act of counting and focusing on numbers can often help get you out of your own head. Plus, taking a break from the computer screen will probably help, too.
While it may seem like these breathing exercises for anxiety are as easy as inhaling and exhaling, it does take a little practice. Be sure to try these different techniques when you're calm and before you find yourself in a high-stakes situation. Then when you're up against a stress-inducing situation, these breathing exercises for anxiety can help you calm down and refocus.