Meditation for Anxiety & Stress

September 10, 2019 in Articles

Meditation is a fascinating part of humanity’s history. It has evolved into a mosaic of disciplines, across numerous cultures and civilizations over thousands of years.  That makes it challenging to narrow down a definition but at its core; meditation involves using a specific method allowing a person to focus their mind on a thought, activity or object to achieve mental clarity and calmness. 

This very generalized definition creates many misconceptions around what meditation is and how to use meditation for anxiety. Although much of its history is tied to spirituality, today meditation is used by medical and mental health professionals as part of a holistic treatment for mental health

Deceptions of Chinese Breathing exercises found in a burial site from 200 AD.

Benefits of Meditation for Anxiety

Even though meditation has been practiced for generations around the world, it’s only in the last few decades the scientific community has begun to seriously study the impact of meditation on the human body and brain. Although there is still much we don’t know, the consensus among researchers is that meditation offers many benefits for people looking to curb their anxiety and stress.

Helps With Focus

Generally, most meditation techniques work on improving our attention spans. But research has shown that it can help train our minds from wandering and better yet, the effects of this training can last for years. 

Helps us Manage Stress Over the Long Term

Breathing is connected to how our body processes many emotions, especially the ones linked to our “fight or flight” responses. When our stress levels spike due to a real or perceived threat, adrenaline races through our body.  Our heart rate speeds up, blood pressure rises and our breathing rate doubles to nearly twenty breaths per minute. 

Studies have now shown that specific breathing techniques can calm our emotions and body during periods of high stress. Since breathing is a cornerstone of meditation, it makes sense that meditation is a powerful method for dealing with anxiety.  

It Increases Our Empathy 

The exact reasoning is still unclear but researchers suspect that the inherent introspective and positive nature of meditation helps people evaluate their place in the world. There is also evidence that meditation activates the parts of our brain responsible for kindness and love. 

Has a Positive Impact on Your Body 

We are not talking about changing the physical makeup of your body; the impact comes in the form of preventive maintenance. High blood pressure, tension, chest pains, insomnia and indigestion; these ailments are often a byproduct of high stress and anxiety, which takes a physical and mental toll on the body. Breathing and meditation can help people control and manage their stress levels, which in turn reduces the harm done to your body and mind.   

There is also research meditation can improve long-term memory

A Beginners Guide to Meditation for Anxiety 

Just like other forms of exercise or discipline, meditation takes practice and patience. Your “meditation muscles” will take time to build their strength and stamina. Sometimes this can make the thought of meditation intimidating for people. If that is the case for you, you may want to try these simple breathing exercises for anxiety. These exercises are often an excellent place to start for beginners. Once you have mastered those techniques, the next step to a more mindful existence is meditation. 

Set a Goal 

Before you get into a meditative mindset, it will make a dramatic difference to ask yourself this question, “What do I want to achieve?”. Using meditation for anxiety can be just one goal. Maybe you want to settle your mind, possibly boost your creative output or discover new ways to connect with your body. There is no “wrong” reason to bring meditation into your life. If you are new to the world of meditation and aren’t sure what you want to focus on, keep things simple. You can simply use meditation to give your brain and body a rest. 

Sounds of Silence 

During your first few rounds of meditation, it’s best to practice in an area that is free of distraction. Although it isn’t necessary, a quiet environment helps you focus during the beginning of your meditation journey. This means no TV or music but also noises from the outside world, seeping in through an open window, can be disruptive. Once you can exercise more control over your mindfulness, noise tends to be a minor distraction. In the meantime, try to keep the sounds to a minimum. And a pro tip: try to keep your meditative space dark or dim. 

Clothes Make the Meditation

You may think your designer jeans are suited for any occasion. However, for meditation, they likely won’t fit the bill. Yoga attire, your favorite pajamas or any unrestrictive and comfortable clothes are best for staying focused and relaxed.

Get Comfy & Cozy 

This is an absolute must. Having a relaxed body is the key to having a relaxed mind. With meditation, we often envision people sitting on the ground or a cushion with their legs crossed. This works well for veterans but can often feel unnatural when starting out. First-timers typically find sitting in a chair with good posture to be the most natural approach.  You simply need to find the position which works for you. The goal is to put your body at ease.

Even your favorite spot in the house will be great

Getting Started  

Now that you are in a comfortable position, it’s time for the last few steps before you begin meditating. You can keep your eyes open or closed but you may find keeping them shut is easier. And don’t worry about your hands, they don’t need to be in any specific position. Simply do what feels natural. And a pro-tip: set an alarm for say five or ten minutes. This helps you stay focused without worrying about time passing.    

Types of Meditation for Anxiety

Measured Breathing

This is one of the easiest ways into the world of meditation. It combines simple breathing techniques with basic counting to help you maintain focus. Measured breathing sometimes used as an umbrella term for various types of counting meditations. We covered one, Box Breathing, in our list of the best breathing exercises for anxiety. Another popular one is the 4-7-8 breathing technique, promoted by Dr. Andrew Weil:

  1. Once you get comfortable and are prepared to start meditating, place the tip of your tongue against the top of your mouth and behind your front teeth. 
  2. First, empty your lungs of air and then breathe in quietly through your nose and count to four. 
  3. Hold this breath in your body and count to seven.  
  4. Finally, exhale through your mouth, while making a “whoosh” sound and count for eight seconds. 
  5. Repeat this process three more times, for a total of four. 

If you find this technique tricky, try counting with each exhale. Start at one and then with the next exhale count “two” and so on. Do this until you reach the number ten. Once you hit ten, start counting backward. It’s okay if your mind drifts and you lose your place, simply start over again. This exercise is a great way to build up mental power and discipline. 

Humming Breath 

This technique is similar to mindfulness meditation and is often associated with a type of yoga. You will start off in the same manner as other meditations. The key difference here, is that you will hum while breathing. After you inhale, begin to hum softly and lightly, while focusing on the humming. Try to make the sound and sensations of the humming the only thing in your thoughts.  

Take note of the sensation of the humming flowing through your head, chest, legs and other parts of your body. You can repeat the hum eight to ten times (during each breath) or set an alarm to go off after a certain period of time. 

Feel free to change up the volume, the tone or the pitch of the hum. Once you have finished the humming breath exercise, focus on the silence and how your body feels since you began. You will likely notice a sense of stillness that has eradicated any stress or anxiety. 

With practice, you will be able to meditate anywhere if needed

Alternate Nostril Breathing 

Again, start by going through the regular pre-meditation routine we outlined in the beginner’s guide. Now follow these steps:

  1. Close your right nostril with fingers from your right hand (usually the pointer and middle finger). 
  2. Inhale slowly through your left nostril and then close this same nostril with your left land. 
  3. Hold the breath for a pause.
  4. Now open up your right-side nostril and slowly let the air out through your nose. 
  5. Hold for a pause. 
  6. Now inhale slowly through the right nostril, while keeping the left one closed.
  7. Hold the breath for a pause.
  8. Open up the left-side nostril and expel the air.  

Repeat this whole process for about five to ten times on each side. Alternate nasal breathing will benefit you in a few ways. Slowing down while extending the process of inhaling and exhaling, will trigger the mind to slow down. This will in turn help focus your thoughts and quiet stressful emotions. Additionally, breathing through your left nostril directs oxygen into the right hemisphere of your brain, which turns on the parasympathetic nervous system. This also will increase feelings of relaxation. 

Visualization Meditation

Research has shown that a positive outlook keeps you healthier physically and mentally. For decades athletes, performers and entrepreneurs have tapped into the power of visualization to help achieve their goals. But it can also be used to manage stress and anxiety. It primarily comes down to controlling the thoughts which are in your mind. 

Visual meditation is often seen as a more advanced technique. Try no to let that discourage you;  as with any new method, practice makes all the difference. The goal of this technique is to imagine being transported to a specific place. A unique but comfortable space within your mind’s eye. This can be a place you are familiar with or one you have seen before in pictures. Here is how to approach it:

  1. Sit somewhere quiet and peaceful
  2. Take five deep breaths 
  3. Begin to slowly visualize a space or setting which calms you – for example, sitting on a mountainside over a lake. 
  4. (Keeping with our example) Start imagining the larger view first, such as the expansive treescape surrounding you.
  5. Slowly zoom into the setting, noticing all the more intimate details: birds singing in a quiet, steady rhythm or the sound of the wind moving through the leaves.
  6. Now take notice of your body reacting to this environment: the air tickling the air of your skin or how the sun warms your body.
  7. Finally, cast out any negative thoughts which have clogged up your mind
  8. Watch these negative thoughts disappear into the ethers 

With enough practice, using visual meditation for anxiety can help lower stress levels, blood pressure, even chest pains and headaches. 

The commute home is a great opportunity to practice

 Mindfulness Meditation

The word “Mindfulness” is now commonly used in society but the habit of being “Mindful” is rooted in spiritual practices (like Buddhism) which have been practiced for millennia. Today universities, private businesses and even the military practice or offer some form of mindfulness program. One of the core elements is mindfulness meditation, which has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety and help people think more clearly. 

Similar to visual meditation, it takes some practice to get the hang of it. Let’s go through the steps. Like the other meditation techniques we discussed, start by finding a comfortable and quiet place:

  1. Set a timer for ten or twenty minutes.
  2. Breath in through your nose and exhale out your mouth. 
  3. Take notice of the breath as it passes above your lip and below your nose.
  4. Notice how the air enters and leaves your body; how your belly or chest rises and falls. 
  5. You may also focus on the differences between each individual breath – like trying to see the uniqueness of a snowflake
  6. Now observe your thoughts as they come and go. Take note of the emotions with each one.
  7. Don’t fight or dwell on these thoughts. Acknowledge them and watch them pass through your mind, like you are having an “out of body” experience.
  8. Try to stay in the present and not drift to the past or future.
  9. If you lose focus or become entranced in thought; go back to focusing on your breathing.
  10. When the timer goes off, take a few minutes to become more alert and connected to the environment.

This technique takes time to master so please don’t feel discouraged if you struggle at the start. We are positive that with some practice, this method is one of the best meditations for anxiety.  

 Just Getting Started Using Meditation for Anxiety is Key 

People often find getting started with meditation a daunting task. The hundreds, if not thousands of options available out there can be overwhelming. That’s why we created the Mindbliss app. It has been specially designed to help guide and accelerate your evolution in mindfulness.  It runs on an intelligent algorithm dedicated to curating the ultimate meditation experiences to fit your needs.




Dealing with Anxiety & Stress: A Survival Guide

August 15, 2019 in Articles

Dealing with anxiety is something everyone faces. The reason: you can thank human evolution. Anxiety is part of the “fight or flight” response buried in your brain. This reaction has been perfected over millennia for one sole purpose, to keep you alive.

Remember, your ancestors lived in environments which lacked the social construction and safety we have today. Disease, famine, wild animals and other threats all triggered their survival mechanisms. Adrenaline pumped through their bodies, preparing them to confront or flee any danger. Anxiety is one part of the spectrum which makes up these survival instincts; except the triggers can be quite different. 

30,000 years ago the daily threats were MUCH different

The American Psychology Association defines anxiety as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes.” To put it another way, it’s a response programmed in your body to deal with stress. It can be helpful to think of anxiety as a voice inside our heads, which needs us to take action. It’s totally normal and very important for day to day living. 

Anxiety is not a “one size fits all” scenario. People react differently to triggers and face different levels of anxiety, which last different lengths of time. What’s important is recognizing whether the anxiety we feel is a natural response or a burden which prevents us from performing very basic tasks. And most importantly, understanding what causes our anxiety to spike in the first place. 

The Most Common Anxiety Triggers

There are dozens, likely hundreds of things which can set off anxiety. What causes one person to be anxious, maybe no issue for another. One of the most common triggers of anxiety is public speaking. Talking for six minutes in front of a crowd may be paralyzing for someone, yet that same person may find writing six thousand words to be a walk in the park. Here are some of the most common anxiety triggers:

Money or Finances

Maybe your debt is piling up; school loans, credit cards or mortgage payments. It’s possible you are living paycheck to paycheck with bills mounting. This scenario is a common one to trigger stress. Without proper coping techniques, money issues can make it challenging to deal with anxiety and have a clear mind to find solutions.  

62% of Americans say money is their biggest source of stress


Differences arise with loved ones, relatives, friends, roommates, co-workers or anyone you have some type of relationship with. Maybe just the idea of friction or disagreement with a person sends chills throughout your body. Without addressing the anxiety, it becomes easier to avoid people altogether, deteriorating relationships further (and thus causing more anxiety!)  

Illness or Health Concerns

A bad diagnosis, understandably, can trigger anxiety levels but so can the thought of becoming ill. This is especially true if someone close to us is sick.  The “what if” and doomsday scenarios begin to take over and we might begin to picture a world without us in it. Anxiety is this context may lead us to make rash decisions regarding our health. It is important to be grounded in reality when facing an illness but anxiety and stress can cloud our decision-making process. 


The societal norm tells us alcohol can relieve stress and but only temporarily. In fact, the original stress and anxiety come back even just after a few hours (and likely stronger as the body goes through withdrawal.) Remember: the events or thoughts which caused the anxiety in the first place, likely haven’t gone away. This can sometimes lead to more drinking to try and further relieve the stress, but it doesn’t work. 

Social Situations

Parties, dating, presentations, crowds, maybe even just having to talk to strangers makes your adrenaline skyrocket. Without addressing these triggers avoidance can sometimes set it. 


Not eating enough healthy foods or skipping meals altogether can have a dramatic impact on your body, brain and stress levels. 


Planes, trains and automobiles can get anyone wound up and feeling stressed. Just thinking about packing, schedules, confined and close quarters, delays and so on can cause anxiety levels to rise. Although this anxiety is often manageable, it can still be a burden to people who fear or obsess over modes of transportation. 

Two-thirds of people say flying is the most stressful form of travel


A very common trigger is having to pack up your life (or leave one behind.) We may even avoid pursuing new relationships, opportunities, and experiences because of it. 

Sudden Changes at Work 

This can go beyond losing a job. Promotions, having to take on a colleagues workload, new projects or new bosses can set a person’s stress meter to HIGH. The workplace can generate stress in a myriad of ways, so anxiety coping skills are essential to have for any job.  

Negative Thinking

We aren’t talking about a “Debbie Downer” here. In psychological terms, we are focusing more on illogical thought or cognitive distortions. This can be overgeneralizations, jumping to conclusions, blaming others, etc. Some examples of negative thinking could be:

  • What if I’m late for this appointment?
  • Have I chosen the wrong career?
  • I don’t think I will finish this report on time.
  • I think my partner is cheating on me.
  • What if I have cancer?
  • I will never have enough money to retire. 

If we recognize the negative thoughts which cloud our minds and develop consistent anxiety coping skills, it can help quell emotions before they become excessive or unmanageable. 

Quick Hacks for Dealing With Anxiety

Get off social media

A mindless scroll through Instagram or Twitter can be counterproductive when looking for help with anxiety  Sure, there are endless cat photos but also a barrage of news events (mostly negative). Friends, influencers and celebrities are all curating their best lives, implying how we should eat, dress, cook, design our homes and vacation. The need to “Keep up with the Kardashians”  becomes a quagmire of anxiety triggers. If you can’t quit social media, try to take extended breaks. 


This should be a staple in your strategy when coping with anxiety. When stress overtakes your mind, it impacts the body as well. Physical activity helps reduce tension, lift a person’s mood and improves sleep (which also helps decrease anxiety.) The reason is that the endorphins produced by the body during exercise act as a natural painkiller for the body. Swimming, biking, walking or yoga are just some of the exercises you can turn to for jumpstarting your heart rate while shutting down anxiety. 

Just five minutes of activity can dramatically reduce anxiety & stress

Listen to music and dance

This should come as no surprise to the lovers or rhythm and song. Dance can easily fall into the category of exercise for tackling anxiety but its symbiotic relationship with music creates a very special coping technique. Over the last few years, research into the healing properties of music has revealed an incredible amount of breakthroughs. Music can help with anxiety, amnesia, dementia and pain relief.

Do some chores   

We know this one sounds counterintuitive at first, but its a technique for bringing your mind back to a zen state. Research from the University of California has shown that a clean house leads to lower levels of depression and anxiety. Chores are also simple tasks, which we can jump into quickly and easily.

An anxious mind craves taking immediate action and controlling a situation. The act of say, organizing your closet, fulfills this need but gives your anxiety time to run its course. There is no need to go full Marie Kondo and throw out all your possessions, just breaking out the mop and bucket can suffice. 

Dive into a creative activity 

Painting, coloring or really any activity which leads to exercising the more fun and imaginative parts of your brain. Take up that pottery class, re-design a room in your house, break out the carpentry tools or spend a few hours in the garden. Focusing on activities that bring joy and raise our mood, can help balance out the stress in your mind. 

Read a book 

Page-turners are doorways to another world and a long-used technique for battling anxiety. While we read, our heart rate drops, the chemistry and connections in our brain changes and our stress levels plummet. In fact, “bibliotherapy” was used by librarians after World War I to help soldiers deal with trauma (what we would call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD today.)  

ccc Just six minutes of reading can lower stress levels by 60%

Write in a journal 

Thoughts in an anxious mind are like a snowball rolling downhill; increasing in size and speed by the second. So finding clarity and focus in this mindset is next to impossible. Putting pen to paper can help bring order out of chaos.  

Journaling helps anxiety for one main reason: it is the best way to get a snapshot of our thoughts and how fast we cycle through them. A person can have five or six distinct thoughts in mere seconds (but not be aware of them all.) You often hear anxious people say “my mind won’t stop racing!” – journaling helps us isolate those thoughts. 

And once these thoughts are physically in front of us, we can see negative patterns, illogical thinking or irrational ideas. It takes practice and discipline but can become a powerful anxiety coping skill.  Our friends at KYŌ will help ease you into the world of journaling. The KYŌ app has thousands of guiding reflective questions to get you started, organized by experts around the world!


A tough conversation, a big presentation at work or any situation where your words and actions matter. These scenarios can easily send stress levels off the charts. The uncertainty around the outcome of these events is typically the trigger. We only picture negative conclusions and pay no mind to potential positive outcomes. A “rehearsal” with a trusted friend could be just the trick to stop your anxiety from spiking. You can anticipate and brainstorm how to deal with situations as they arise, reducing the uncertainty.  

Hang out with your squad

Support from our friends (or supporting them) can be a great way to melt away anxiety and stress. Opening up about your challenges, listening to theirs or just enjoying a beloved activity with people you care about, can uplift our mood and provide clarity around the negative thoughts we tell ourselves – reminding us what matters most. 


This may not be as easy as you think; especially if anxiety is impacting your sleeping habits. However, it may be possible that the anxiety and stress you feel, has been caused by a lack of proper sleep.

Pro Tip: Go to bed & wake up at the same time every day


Obviously, it’s one of our favorite technique at Mindbliss. It’s easy to start, can be done anywhere and the learning curve is very low. Research has shown that proper breathing helps control our emotions and negative thoughts during periods of stress. Scientists have even found that breathing through our nose helps our brains make better decisions when emotions are running high.

Here are breathing exercises you can use right now to improve anxiety coping skills. Once you have mastered those, the Mindbliss app can curate more breathing exercises for you. 

Long Term Strategies For Dealing With Anxiety

This is not a list of quick-fixes.  Some of these techniques are easier than others to integrate within your daily routine. Yet, with some dedication and discipline, they will be very effective at addressing anxiety over the long term. 

Change up your diet

Moderation and a balanced diet is the goal here. Foods that are high in sugar and fat, especially processed foods, can have a negative impact on the body as the withdrawal symptoms from these foods can mimic symptoms of anxiety. Focus on foods rich in zinc, magnesium, vitamin B and Omega-3 fatty acids. Here is a handy guide from Harvard University on what foods help with anxiety. And remember to keep hydrated by drinking enough water. That being said, always consult with a doctor or health professional before making dramatic changes to your diet. 

Avoid alcohol and cigarettes 

People often turn to alcohol and cigarettes as quick fixes for anxiety but in reality, they often make anxiety symptoms much worse. The buzz from alcohol and nicotine simply masks the initial negative feelings. When the high wears off, not only does the anxiety return but you also have to deal with the physical symptoms of withdrawal. Eliminating or even reducing our consumption of these substances can be tricky due to their addictive properties and socially accepted use. If you think smoking or drinking is having a negative impact on your stress and anxiety levels, talk to your doctor about a plan to stop using them. 

Avoid Caffeine

This one is hard for many people. Caffeine is the world’s most popular drug and found in many products (even some medications.) A small amount of caffeine is typically fine and can even carry some health benefits. Taking into much caffeine though can trigger the body’s “fight or flight” response and like other substances, it can worsen the effects of anxiety once it wears off. Track how much caffeine you are consuming each day. If it’s more than 400 mg, three or four cups of coffee, you may want to consider a reduction plan. You don’t need to go cold turkey but some strategies are drinking low-caffeine alternatives or delaying your morning cup by a few hours. 


Similar to meditation, aromatherapy has been used by various civilizations throughout history.  Often called “essential oils,” aromatherapy treatments are made of natural products, such as jasmine, sage or rosemary.  People then typically inhale, ingest or rub the oils on their skin.

The scientific community is just starting to examine how aromatherapy can address anxiety and stress; to promising results. Plants like lavender have been found to reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress. A word of caution though, not all oils produce the same results for everyone (and they can get quite costly) but it’s worth talking to a professional to determine if aromatherapy can help with anxiety.  

Essential oils are also made into candles

Trigger management

In essence, this boils down to investigating and determining specifically which of the triggers we highlighted earlier are causing you anxiety and stress. Narrowing them down is a bit of trial and error but once done, people then reduce or eliminate their exposure to these triggers. For some triggers, this is easier said than done. Changing your coffee intake is likely easier than changing jobs, but managing your triggers is a surefire way of dealing with anxiety.  

Face your fears

If managing/avoiding triggers is the yin, then facing them is the yang. Also called exposure therapy, this one is a high-risk, high-reward technique. It is often used to address phobias or other anxiety disorders. Essentially, you gradually expose yourself to the situation which is causing anxiety and you learn to become less sensitive over time.

People sometimes use images or even virtual reality as a way of easing into this high anxiety environment. Some medical professionals suggest “diving headfirst,” as it has strong results but this approach can also backfire, causing anxiety or stress to worsen. Exposure therapy is definitely not a quick fix but if you are serious about developing anxiety coping skills talk to a medical professional about this option. 


It’s easy to think of meditation as simply breathing and sitting still. Yet breathing exercises are simply a part of this technique; a technique which is extremely powerful for reducing anxiety & stress. Meditation is where an individual uses a certain process or system to focus their mind on a particular thought, object, activity or breathing pattern. This helps train their level of attention and awareness, in order to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally stable state.

They are MANY forms of meditation:

We know that getting started can be overwhelming, which is exactly why we created Mindbliss. The Mindbliss app has been specially designed to help guide and accelerate your evolution in mindfulness.  It runs on an intelligent algorithm dedicated to curating the ultimate meditation experiences to fit your needs. We promise once you find your rhythm, breathing and meditation will become a transformative experience when dealing with anxiety.



There are various kinds of therapy, which often depend on your level of anxiety, but the most common is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It’s often called talk therapy and has proven to be very successful over the past years. Remember when we talked about journaling, think of CBT as the advanced version of this. Instead of working in isolation, you are working with a professional to change the negative and counterproductive thought processes in your head. 

Over a few weeks, you work on practical strategies (which are repeatable) to help reduce anxiety. Some therapists focus more on rewiring your thinking, while others focus more on exposure therapy techniques. The ultimate goal is to have you managing your anxiety and stress levels on your own after a few months. CBT options should definitely be discussed with your doctor to see if it is right for you.


There are many reasons medication will be prescribed by a professional. They help treat people with extremely high levels of anxiety, they are used to help individuals focus on or complete certain tasks and sometimes they are part of a larger treatment plan with other stress-reducing methods (like CBT.)

There are often stigmas around drugs but these views are unjustified. Medications have been helping people successfully navigate anxiety for decades. It is VERY important you work with your doctor or another professional when exploring anti-anxiety medication. It can be a process of trial and error to find the right fit, as sometimes side effects occur since medications alter the chemical makeup in your brain. This should not deter you as health professionals will monitor your progress to ensure everything is working as it should. When needed, meds can be transformational when looking for ways to deal with anxiety and stress. 

The Best Anxiety Coping Skill is Starting One

There are so many options for dealing with anxiety, just assessing your options can lead to more anxiety. So honestly, the best strategy is to pick something and get started. The technique you choose may not be the perfect fit, but that’s okay. The journey to reducing anxiety can be a bumpy one. Just have patience, trust your instincts and remember there are always people out there who truly want to help (like us!) 

Releasing Stress: Best Breathing Exercises For Anxiety

August 9, 2019 in Articles

Anxiety and stress can be an overwhelming force. Like trying to bail water out of a sinking boat, dealing with anxiety often feels hopeless. No matter how much you try to control your feelings, the paralyzing emotions never seem to end. 

Deceptions of Chinese breathing exercises found in a burial site from 200 AD.

For centuries, mindfulness gurus have been promoting the use of breathing and meditation to quell anxiety. It’s a practice which has always faced some skepticism within the medical community. However, in the last decade, the science around treating anxiety with controlled breathing exercises has come to light. It seems that meditation and mindfulness experts have been right all along; the human body is essentially designed to use oxygen for moderating anxiety.

Why We Breathe

Oxygen is one of the most important fuels for our bodies. On average, we take about ten breaths per minute. Each day, we are bombarded with all the reasons we need to eat and drink properly. Yet, we rarely think about the amount of oxygen we take in and how it affects our bodies⁠— specifically our minds. It helps us think, digest and even move the smallest of muscles. 

In the very simple terms, we breathe to get oxygen to our cells. Our cells then use this oxygen to break down sugar into carbon dioxide (which we breathe out) and water. This entire process is designed to help provide energy to vital organs such as the brain and heart. This system, subconsciously controlled by the brain⁠⁠ is keeping a watchful eye on the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your body. 


The build-up of carbon dioxide sends signals to the brain to bring in more oxygen, using more energy to release carbon dioxide. Remember though, that this energy-intensive process causes the body to produce more carbon dioxide, creating a vicious cycle. Understanding this cycle helps recognize why anxiety and breathing go hand in hand.  

How Breathing Affects Your Mind

The air we take in also plays a huge psychological role. Humans breathe when they sing, laugh and cry⁠—we breathe at every moment of our lives. And more and more research is showing that breathing highly impacts our moods and our memory

Studies conducted by researchers at Northwestern University in Illinois showed that brain activity fluctuates in sync with breathing. Breathing also impacts the amygdala, which controls how humans handle emotions. “If you are in a panicked state, your breathing rhythm becomes faster. As a result, you’ll spend proportionally more time inhaling than when in a calm state,” said Christina Zelano, assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, lead author of the report

Our fight or flight response can be triggered by just our thoughts

When your brain detects an external threat, the amygdala takes over and determines the appropriate reaction (this is often called the “fight or flight response.) During this heightened state, adrenaline races through our body causing our heart rate to speed up, blood pressure rises and our breathing rate doubles, to nearly 20 breathes per minute. Our bodies do all these things for a reason, to prepare ourselves to react to the threat of danger.

But what if there is no ferocious animal or terrifying criminal standing in front of you? You simply have the feeling that something is wrong. Well, this is likely your anxiety taking over (which, trust us, is also important for your survival) Your body reacts like a physical threat is standing in front of you, except these current threats are simply ideas floating in your mind. This doesn’t mean they are imaginary or made up; it simply means that without strong coping techniques, your anxiety and stress can end up being a barrier to happiness and productivity.

How Anxiety and Breathing Work Together 

One in five people struggle with anxiety and the numbers are on the rise. Odds are you have felt it before. The symptoms could include:

  • Tightening and/or aching muscles
  • Rapid breathing
  • Lack of saliva and dry mouth
  • Nausea or indigestion 
  • Chest pains
  • Vertigo or dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Even possibly blurred vision

An anxiety attack can sometimes last 30 minutes

If you have had any of these symptoms, it is a good idea to speak with your doctor, as they can be attributed to other causes. However, if they appear to be triggered by and event or thought, then anxiety is often the culprit. This is all thanks to our internal friend the amygdala which leaps into action when a threat is detected. The key difference is these threats are often in the mind or perceived; especially for people affected by an anxiety disorder.

The trigger can be the slightest of things; a news headline, challenges at work or the thought of having a “heart-to-heart” with a loved one.  Anxiety isn’t “bad,” it’s still a part of our fight or flight instincts. Yet, anxiety and stress can easily overwhelm and overpower the mind without understanding how to manage it. 

Earlier we said oxygen creates the energy which helps expel carbon dioxide from the body.  Yet, this very process produces even MORE carbon dioxide, which needs to be expelled. So, if anxiety makes you gasp for air, your body will always be in this accelerated state of rapid breathing. 

As we now know, proper breathing can help control our emotions, intrusive thoughts and body during instances of high stress. Specifically, when we breathe through our nose, it helps the brain make better decisions when emotions are tied up in the situation. Maybe some of these thoughts have spiked your anxiety:

  • What if I’m late for this appointment?
  • Have I chosen the wrong career?
  • I don’t think I will finish this report on time.
  • I think my partner is cheating on me.
  • What if I have cancer?
  • I will never have enough money to retire. 

A simple email or text can spike anxiety; causing us to lose focus for hours

Even if these things have not happened, these thoughts are still powerful enough to send your adrenaline skyrocketing. With proper breathing and mindfulness techniques, you can control your body’s reaction before it controls you.

A Beginner’s Guide to Proper Breathing

Like learning a sport or musical instrument, proper breathing for anxiety takes the right playbook and some practice. We understand that getting started can feel overwhelming (it may even cause some anxiety!) So, here is a beginner’s guide to breathing exercises for anxiety by guru Linda Hall, broken down into some very easy steps:

  1. Sit up with good posture while making sure you are still comfortable.
  2. Close your eyes or soften your gaze on an object, this can be anything, even the floor or wall.
  3. Try to eliminate visual distractions.
  4. Breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose. 
  5. Exhale slowly through your mouth and envision that you are letting the weight of your body escape.
  6. Repeat these steps finding and focusing on the natural rhythm of your breath while gradually slowing it.

Focus on feeling comfortable rather than perfection of technique

Whether in bed after waking or at your desk, you can practice this anywhere. Beginners sometimes struggle to keep focused. It’s totally normal if your thoughts drift to other things, just catch yourself and start again. Try to concentrate on the sound of your breath, or how your chest rises and falls, or even the sensation of air flowing through your nostrils. 

And that’s it; the very first steps of structured breathing exercises for anxiety and stress. At this stage, you don’t need to have a meditation marathon remember, it takes practice. Even just finishing one minute at this stage is a win. As one minute gradually becomes ten minutes, here are some more advanced breathing exercises for anxiety to put in the toolbox.

More Breathing Exercises for Stress and Anxiety 

Breath Meditation Counting 

Ajahn Achalo has been studying meditation with monks from around the world for nearly two decades. A contributor to Mindbliss, his process of Breath Meditation Counting has been practiced by monks for centuries to help build mental power.

Start with the steps from our beginner’s breathing exercise but this time, count “ONE” during your exhale. Inhale again and count “TWO” during the next exhale. Repeat this process until you reach the number TEN.  

If you lose track of a number, don’t worry, simply start over. As you gain experience with this exercise, try counting backward from TEN or extend the length of counting to 20 or even 50. You should find this exercise helps you clear distracting thoughts and boosts concentration power. 

Progressive Relaxation 

This breathing exercise is designed to eliminate tension throughout the entire bodyfrom your feet to your forehead. After you get accustomed to simple breathing exercises, casually hold your breath while simultaneously focusing on a tense area of the body for a few seconds.  

You can start with the forehead, arms, calves or wherever you feel the most tension. Should you feel any pain or discomfort, move on to another part of the body.  Dr. Gale Michew, a licensed psychologist, has a wonderful progressive relaxation session available in the Mindbliss app.

Box Breathing 

Sometimes called square breathing or navy seal breathing (it is practiced by navy seals to help control their stress levels,) box breathing is a very straight forward breathing exercise for anxiety and stress relief. In a way, it’s a very simple version of meditation and can be a good starting point for beginners.

Again, find a comfortable place to sit upright and keep your body relaxed. A quiet and non-distracting environment is ideal but this technique can be practiced anywhere at any time:  

  1. Exhale slowly, while counting to four;
  2. Now count to four again, once your lungs have been depleted;
  3. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose while counting to four;
  4. With your lungs full, count to four again; then
  5. Repeat the process from step one.


If you get lightheaded or dizzy (which can happen to newbies,) just resume breathing normally until the feeling passes and then resume box breathing. 

Heart Healing Breath 

This technique was developed by a popular contributor to Mindbliss, Jhenneviev Heartt. Her teachings blend various parts of yoga, natural medicine and transformational breathwork. The Heart Healing Breathe exercise is designed to help relieve stress and tension in the chest, upper back and throat. 

You will want to find some privacy for this exercise. As usual, find a comfortable place to sit but this time, you will want a chair which can recline and support your neck. Start with your beginner’s breathing routine and focus on filling your upper body with air, just above your belly. Let your eyes, neck and head soften as the breaths become slower. 

At this point, introduce a different breathing technique called “Sipping”. Imagine you are drinking out of an imaginary straw (or whistling in reverse); inhale this way, maintaining the continued goal of filling your lungs with air. Your chest should start to feel light but energized.

Finally, we will now introduce a slight sound during the exhale. After each sipping breath, softly say “ahhhhh….” as you exhale. Picture a doctor examining your throat but keep your tongue in! This whole process will help the head, jaw and neck relax. Allow your body to sink deeper into your reclined seat as your breathes and chants slowly release in the areas we carry it most.

(Even More) Breathing Exercises For Anxiety 

This is just the beginning of your journey. As you get better, you may be curious to explore other types of breathing and meditation routines. You can find these routines in the Mindbliss app, which has been specially designed to help guide and accelerate your evolution in mindfulness.  It runs on an intelligent algorithm dedicated to curating the ultimate meditation experiences to fit your needs. 

This will be a transformative journey – we know you can do it