Controlling Anxiety With Deep Breathing

There is a strong connection between the way you breathe and the way you feel. When you’re relaxed, your breaths are long and deep, originating from your abdomen. When you’re anxious, your breath is often short and shallow, originating from high in your chest.

The link between breathing and emotion operates in both directions. Just as the way you feel affects the way you breathe, the way you breathe affects the way you feel.

A handful of experiments have established this connection. Dr. James Loehr found that when relaxed subjects were asked to take short, rapid, and irregular breaths for two minutes—in other words, to pant—nearly everyone interviewed felt worried, threatened, and panicky. Simply by imitating the response of an anxious person, the subjects had made themselves anxious.

Luckily, this principle can be used to encourage relaxation as well. By breathing slowly, steadily, and deeply and by beginning your breaths in your abdomen instead of up in your chest, you can encourage a feeling of relaxation.

So just before an exam, an interview, or a dental appointment, when your palms are sweating, your body is tense, and your breath is short and shallow, try the count-of-three method to induce a more relaxed state. Count slowly and calmly through each step:

  • Inhale slowly through your nose while silently counting to three.
  • Hold your breath for the count of three.
  • Exhale slowly through your nose while silently counting to three.
  • With your breath expelled, count to three.
  • Repeat steps 1 to 4 several times. (Once you have the rhythm you need not continue counting; but maintain the same timing and the same pauses).

Source: How To Study In College (eighth edition) by Walter Pauk and Ross J.Q. Owens. Pgs. 91-92.