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Practice slower breathing

When our bodies’ defense systems get activated and the signals of anxiety arise, understandably we are eager to make these symptoms go away. Although there is no magic pill or skill that can prevent us from feeling fear and panic, there are skills that can help slow down this process and help us return to calmness more quickly.

STAND Tip: Understand the body’s response to fear & anxiety

One of these skills is to slow our breathing. Slowing down our breathing won’t make the feelings disappear, but it will reduce them such that we feel calmer, more centered and more able to focus and make reasoned decisions. With practice, you will be able to use this breathing skill more effortlessly and effectively in a high-stress situation.

Steps to slower breathing

  1. Find a place to lay down, sit or stand still.
  2. If you can do so discreetly, put one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest.
  3. Take normal sized breaths, not deep breaths. Notice how your belly and chest are moving with these normal breaths.
  4. Adjust your breathing so that your belly rises and falls like you are filling up a balloon and then deflating it, while your chest remains still.
  5. Close your eyes and breathe in and out through your nose. On the inhale, think, “Inhale, 2, 3.” Then, on the exhale, think ,“Relax, 2, 3.”
  6. Focus your attention on the sensation of breathing and on your counting. If your attention wanders to other things that do not need immediate attention, simply notice that your attention is drifting and focus back on your breathing and counting.
  7. If in a non-stressful situation, repeat this for 5 minutes with your eyes closed. If you are experiencing a great deal of stress or anxiety, continue to breathe and count until you feel your body start to calm.

With practice, you will be able to use this breathing skill more effortlessly and effectively, which is especially helpful when it comes time to use it in a high stress situation. Using this skill may help you return to work or other activity calmer and with a clearer head.

On your own: Practice slow breathing when you are in a state of calm (e.g., not scared or anxious) so that you can be more comfortable with it when you need to use it in a high stress situation

Downloadable resources to use on your own

Information Sheets

Understanding & Managing Fear & Anxiety

Body Responses to Fear & Anxiety

How-to Guides

Practice Slower Breathing