Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems we can face, according to the UK’s Mental Health Foundation. It is also the focus of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week.

When we feel anxious, there are breathing exercises we can do that will help manage and alleviate symptoms. Psychotherapist, James Elliott shares his top three that we can do day-to-day below:

Exercise 1: Breath is power

  • Breathe in for four seconds (fill your lungs to half capacity)
  • Hold for one second
  • Breathe in for another four seconds
  • Release breath steadily for four seconds
  • Repeat four times

By breathing like this we activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which governs our bodily state of ‘rest and digest’. It will literally physically calm you down. It is putting the body in the opposite state to the flight/fight/freeze response. And, your mind is no longer focused on what’s causing you stress, instead it’s focused on counting. Learning to control this is learning how to take your power back.

Exercise 2: Listen to your body and relax

  • Remove all stimulants. Turn your phone, close the doors, or even better, get outside to a peaceful place.
  • Now sit in an upright position.
  • Breathe in for 7 seconds, and breathe out for 11 seconds. Fill your lungs and belly up with air and then release that air in a controlled and patient way. This is calming your body and mind. While your conscious mind focuses on your breath, your parasympathetic nervous system is activated and the body will start to relax.

Exercise 3:

  • Pick a point at the very top of your head, and keep breathing as described in exercise 2. Now imagine a light at this point on the top of your head.
  • Where the light is, your body will start to relax. Now start moving the light down your body. Move it down from the crown of your head to your forehead, feeling the muscles there relax. Then move it down to your eyebrows, your eyes and eyelids. Imagine the stress leaving them.
  • Your ears and ear lobes are next, followed by your top lip, your mouth, cheeks and jaw. Your mouth might even open slightly from the release of tension. The light moves down to your neck and throat, then to your shoulders. It will move down your left arm first, your biceps and triceps, your left elbow and forearm and wrist, all the way to the ends of your fingers. The same process now happens to your right arm, all the way to your fingertips.
  • Now the light and relaxing feeling move down your body – your lungs and heart, your diaphragm, your stomach, lower back, all the way to your glutes.
  • Repeat the entire process until you reach your toes.
  • By focusing on nothing but your breath, and the imaginary light relaxing your muscles, you shift your awareness to your body and how it feels. Now stay in tune with that peace and silence and sit there for a little while longer, breathing calmly.

For more, make sure to check out the new book, Think Yourself Resilient: Harness Your Emotions. Build Your Confidence. Transform Your Life.

Think Yourself Resilient

James Elliott

Publication Date: 27 April 2023

Do you often feel overwhelmed with stress? Does fear ever hold you back from your goals? Do you feel like quitting when it gets tough?

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