Anxiety is a riptide: The more you fight it, the harder it is to find solid ground.

It's a reaction to stress that pulls your mind out of the present moment and into what can feel like an imminent disaster. Suddenly, your thoughts spiral. Your body tenses. Your pulse quickens. And your breaths become shallow or, in some cases, nonexistent.

There's no quick fix for anxiety. But there is a practice that can help quell your body's response to it: belly breathing.

Why Belly Breathing?

Breathing is the most basic function of human life. The more air you take into your lungs, the more relaxed you feel. The shallow breaths that stressful moments can catalyze often exacerbate your anxiety. Long, deep, slow breaths, on the other hand, can:

  • Release tension
  • Deepen relaxation
  • Increase emotional control
  • Enhance clarity of mind
  • Boost power of concentration
  • Oxygenate your cells
  • Promote overall health
  • Better your sleep patterns

Getting Started

  • Step 1: Sit in a relaxed, comfortable position, with your back straight, feet flat on the floor and hands flat on your lap. Relax your shoulders, jaw and face. Close your eyes, or keep them open with your head up and gaze focused on the floor.
  • Step 2: Keeping your shoulders back, allow your lungs to expand. Take a few breaths this way, until you feel a good rhythm.
  • Step 3: Gently place one hand on your belly, right between the bottom of your ribcage and your navel. Take a deep breath in through your nose as you expand your belly. Imagine you’re holding a balloon, expanding as you fill with oxygen.
  • Step 4: Now, slowly let out the breath, through your nose or mouth, pulling in your belly muscles and “deflating the balloon.” Press all the air out of your lungs.

Continue this practice, establishing a natural rhythm as your belly rises and falls. Give yourself the space to repeat until you feel yourself relax.

The Bottom Line

Belly breathing is a subtle technique that can be practiced anywhere from workplace to bedside. With practice, you’ll develop a habit you can rely on when you feel your blood pressure rising. Over time, you’ll be capable of tolerating the stressful moments life throws your way.