The Best Breathing Techniques For Anxiety, According to Experts

When you're in the throes of anxiety, it can feel like you're trapped inside your own mind. You might experience symptoms like racing thoughts, nausea, restlessness, or have trouble grounding yourself in the present moment. If you feel like your anxiety is sending you into a spiral, one of the most powerful tools you can use is actually your own breath. But according to experts, some breathing techniques are more effective than others.

To find the best breathing techniques for anxiety, we asked experts for their tips and recommendations. It's important to note that these techniques aren't a cure-all for anxiety and may not relieve your symptoms. If you deal with frequent anxiety attacks, you may want to speak to a professional for the best personalized treatment and medical advice. You can also call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP or dial 988, the nation's mental health hotline. That said, breathing techniques can still help provide some relief, especially if you're able to catch an anxiety attack early on. Read on to see the breathing techniques experts suggest for anxiety (plus how to do them correctly).

Experts Featured in This Article:

John Hamilton, LMFT, LADC, currently chairs the advisory board for the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) and serves on the Governors Alcohol and Drug Policy Council.

Pedram Shojai, MS, RD, is a doctor of oriental medicine, and author of New York Times best-seller "The Urban Monk."

Jackie Stewart is an Alo Moves mindfulness and meditation instructor.

Deep Belly Breathing

"When we get anxious or have a panic attack, our bodies tense up and we engage in shallow breathing," says John Hamilton, LMFT, LADC. To combat this, he recommends focusing on diaphragmatic breathing (also called deep belly breathing). This is a conscious form of breathing where you focus on your belly expanding in and out with each breath instead of your chest moving up and down. "This breathing technique gets more oxygen to your brain, which in turn causes your brain to release endorphins, known as a happiness hormone," Hamilton says.

How to Do It

  • Come to a seated position.
  • Harvard Medical School recommends placing one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
  • Inhale deeply through your nose until you feel your belly expand and the hand on your stomach rise (the hand on your chest should remain still).
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth (you can also try exhaling through pursed lips, if that feels better).
  • Aim for 10 deep breaths.

Deep belly breathing is also great for grounding yourself, which is good for when you feel anxiety start to bubble up. "Anything that helps ground you in the present can disrupt the worrisome thoughts that often accompany a bout of anxiety," Hamilton says. "You can also acknowledge that you're experiencing anxiety in this moment but that it will pass. Breathe deep, feel your body calming down, and stay in the present."

Forced Exhales

If you're already caught in the midst anxiety, Pedram Shojai, MD, RD recommends taking a long breath out through your mouth. "This will help blow off some steam and cool the system," he tells PS. Forced exhalation is essentially another form of deep diaphragmatic breathing, but it involves a more intentional stomach contraction.

How to Do It

  • Inhale passively (as you normally would).
  • Forcefully exhale by contracting your stomach muscles.
  • Continue until you start to feel calmer.

If you're new to deep breathing, you can also try laying on your back, so you can feel your ribcage expand, and your stomach muscles contract.

Ear Massage

Shojai says that adding an ear massage to any diaphragmatic breathing can be another helpful technique in reducing anxiety.

How to Do It

  • "Gently massage and tug on the ears as you breathe deeply down to your lower abdomen," Shojai says. "Start from the top of the helix and work your way down to the lobes."
  • As you massage both ears, take note of any sore or painful points. "There are some powerful pressure points on the ears, and pressing them while doing your deep breaths is very effective," Shojai says.

Box Breathing

Research shows that breathwork can decrease stress, reduce, anxiety, and help activate the parasympathetic nervous system (aka, the body's way of moving out of fight-or-flight). One easy way to try breathwork is with a technique called box breathing. "This breath can be particularly supportive if we find ourselves getting caught up in destructive thoughts," Jackie Stewart previously told PS. "It helps interrupt that pattern and redirects our attention, keeping us focused on deep, slow breathing." You can also try guided breathwork here.

How to Do It

  • Take a comfortable seated position and breathe normally.
  • Inhale for 4 seconds, then hold the breath at the top for 4 seconds.
  • Exhale for 4 seconds, then hold for 4 seconds before taking the next breath in.
  • Repeat until you find a good rhythm with your breath.

Finding a breathing method that works best for you can be trial and error. Don't be afraid to give one or more of the above techniques a try. But remember, these techniques are not a cure-all. If you still find yourself experiencing anxiety, it's always a good idea to reach out to a mental health expert.

— Additional reporting by Chandler Plante

Christina Stiehl is a former senior editor for PS Fitness. Her work has appeared in SELF, VICE, SHAPE, Men's Health, Thrillist, and more. She's passionate about advocating for mental health and erasing the stigma associated with mental illness.

Chandler Plante is an assistant editor for PS Health & Fitness. Previously, she worked as an editorial assistant for People magazine and contributed to Ladygunn, Millie, and Bustle Digital Group. In her free time, she overshares on the internet, creating content about chronic illness, beauty, and disability.