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Life hacks

How to use mindful breathing to manage anxiety

- April 17, 2024 3 MIN READ
Claire Wu
Breath into Peace founder Claire Wu
Anxiety is a huge issue that many in society go through. It is considered the most common mental health condition in Australia and America.

More than one in six Australians had an anxiety disorder such as social phobia or post-traumatic stress disorder in the previous 12 months, while in America, over 40 million adults accounting for 19.1% of the population suffer from anxiety disorders. 

This has caused stress in relationships and cost Australian businesses up to $39 billion annually, and The American Institute of Stress reports that anxiety and stress cost American businesses up to $300 billion annually.

Improving one’s mental health is everyone’s responsibility and should always be a priority.

A recent study from the Washington University School of Medicine has shown that the mind-body connection is real, and the physical activities we engage in directly impact our moods and mental state. 

The process of maintaining good mental health is like working out and should be practised daily, and breathing techniques when done right, are one of the easiest things we can do to make immediate, positive changes in our mental states.

I’ll be sharing my daily routine of breathing exercises that I do throughout my day that you can easily incorporate throughout your working day to help manage your anxiety.

The benefits of mindful breathing and techniques

A study by Cell Reports Medicine shows that five minutes of breathwork daily across a month can significantly improve your mood and reduce anxiety. Breathwork techniques can be executed no matter where you are and bring your awareness to the present moment and the task at hand.  

Before work: 4-7-8 Breathing

This technique is great for calming your mind and increasing your focus and concentration, grounding you before you start on your tasks. 

Take a seat or find a comfortable spot, and start with a deep breath out through your mouth to empty your lungs. 

  • Breathe in through your nose deeply for 4 seconds
  • Hold your breath for 7 seconds
  • Exhale out from your mouth through pursed lips to make a “whooshing sound” for 8 seconds
  • The 4-7-8 technique should be repeated between 4 to 6 times.

For those who have trouble holding their breath, the 4-7-8 counts can be halved – 2 seconds in, 3.5 seconds hold, 4 seconds out. The ratio is more important than the duration.

During work: Box (square) breathing 

When you’re working and feel the tension build, this technique is an easy way to re-centre yourself and boost your concentration levels.

Take a seat with your back supported and your feet on the floor. 

  • Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose over 4 seconds to fill up your lungs, and visualise your diaphragm and belly expanding with the air
  • Hold your breath for 4 seconds 
  • Exhaling through your mouth for 4 seconds, emptying your lungs
  • After the exhale hold for another 4 seconds
  • This cycle can be repeated for 4 to 5 minutes, or as long as it takes to center yourself.

The counts can be adjusted for your comfort level, if 4 seconds is challenging, start with 3, and you can work your way up. Focus on your breathing and on relaxing your muscles rather than engaging them.

After work: Alternate nostril breathing 

When you’re done with work, this technique is a good reset and helps bring your mind out of work mode for you to seize the rest of your day.

Be seated upright comfortably with your back straight and shoulders relaxed, you can close your eyes as well if needed.

  • Close your right nostril with your right thumb
  • Inhale through your right nostril for 4 seconds and fill your lungs fully
  • Place your right ring finger on your left nostril without releasing your right nostril and hold your breath for 4 seconds
  • Exhale fully from your left nostril for 4 seconds while keeping your right nostril closed
  • Inhale through your left nostril for 4 seconds and fill your lungs fully
  • Close both nostrils again and hold your breath for 4 seconds
  • Exhale fully from your left nostril for 4 seconds while keeping your right nostril closed
  • Repeat for 5-10 times

For this technique, breathe naturally and don’t force your breath, focus on the flow of air going in and out. If you have difficulties holding your breath, pause between inhalations and work your way up the repetitions.

Conclusion

Breathing with intent and purpose daily will improve your life.

The breathing techniques mentioned can be applied throughout the day, and repeated as necessary.

Despite our busy schedules, make it a point to do the exercises before you start work and after, and you’ll start to see improvements that will encourage you to include breathwork as part of your daily habits that maintain and improve your overall well-being.

 

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