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Stressed, anxious, overwhelmed? Let these easy breathing exercises and mini meditations melt your worries away.

By Katie Holdefehr and Maggie Seaver
Updated May 01, 2020
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woman practicing Breathing Exercises and Meditations for Anxiety
Credit: Getty Images/Westend61

It’s OK to admit it: Many of us are feeling elevated amounts of stress right now. Luckily, there are ways to calm yourself down when things reach a fever pitch—either from internal worry or the chaos around you. 

Special attention to the breath, thanks to proper breathing techniques and mindfulness meditation exercises, is proven to help reduce anxiety and manage stress. So to help you get through the worries and stress in your life, we've rounded up our favorite mini meditations and easy breathing exercises for anxiety. Each simple technique takes only a few minutes, making them easy to do any time you need to hit the reset button—the middle of a workday, before bed, when you wake up, or just because. Bookmark this page for easy access to calming, effective breathing exercises whenever stress and anxiety hit. 

1. The 4-7-8 Deep-Breathing Exercise for Reducing Anxiety

The 4-7-8 breathing method has been touted by experts as almost a “natural tranquilizer” for the sympathetic nervous system—the system that makes us feel stress and anxiety as a defense mechanism. Activation of this stress system is meant to be a vital survival tool, but it’s disruptive when trying to focus for a meeting or fall asleep quickly (or just live your life). To start, close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose for four seconds. Hold your breath in for seven seconds. Exhale completely through the mouth, making a “whoosh” sound, for eight seconds. Repeat this cycle four times.

Scott Shute, LinkedIn’s head of mindfulness and compassion, explains in his guided 4-7-8 LinkedIn Learning practice, this deep breathing exercise is ideal for reducing anxiety and falling asleep. The more often you practice (twice a day is perfect), the more effective it gets. Not only can the 4-7-8 breathing method help release mind and body tension in the moment, but over time it can even boost your mood, immune system, blood quality, and digestive system. 

2. A Warming, Sea-Inspired Breathing Exercise for Anxiety

You know how you can hold a seashell up to your ear and immediately be transported to the ocean, listening to the sound of the waves? To settle the mind and generate some internal warmth, try this breathing exercise from Edward Jones of Wheel & Axle anytime you’re anxious and need a beach escape.

Start with a couple of breaths in and out of the mouth just to get going. With each long exhale, make a gentle ahhh sound. Then transition to breathing in through your nose and out the mouth. Imagine you're trying to fog up a mirror with your exhale. Now, what if you tried to make that same sound while exhaling through the nose? Can you find a similar sound as you inhale through the nose too? Keep going for another 10 to 20 breaths and let these slow, oceanic breaths warm and soothe your nervous system. 

3. A Deep-Breathing Exercise for Chronic Pain 

Chronic pain can be so personal and intense that we begin to feel isolated from others. This exercise from yoga teacher Cyndi Lee can expand your awareness, transforming isolation into compassion, connection, and a sense of purpose. Slowly inhale and exhale a few times, letting your breath be like a cool sorbet, cleansing your mind and creating some space in your activity. Close your eyes and think about other people you know who are also living with chronic pain. Begin to expand that awareness; consider all the people in your city, your state, your country, and the world who have daily pain. On your next inhale, imagine gathering them all together. As you exhale, imagine breathing out relief, spaciousness, loving kindness, and fresh potential.

4. An Easy Meditation for When Things Get Busy or Overwhelming

When your life feels overscheduled and you need a tiny break from the action, Lee recommends this calming routine. Sit quietly with your eyes open, gazing down toward the floor. Feel the sensation of your natural breath going in and out, right at the very edge of your nostrils. Start to rest your busy mind. Just as it’s normal for your brain to create thoughts, it’s normal for them to go away. Take a moment to experience this gap—this mini holiday from worrying and planning. After a few seconds, return to your regular breath. Thoughts will come and go. If you can learn to get familiar with this opening in your mind, you will be able to go there whenever you need. 

5. Cooling Breaths for Agitation or Impatience 

Your breath can help you chill out when you’re irritable or impatient. Lee suggests using this cooling breath as a mental air conditioner when you’re emotionally heated. Make an oval with your lips. Draw in a long, strong breath—you will probably hear a sound like the wind blowing. The air coming into your body will cool off your tongue. At the end of the inhalation, close your lips and gently press your tongue against the roof of your mouth. Feel the coolness of your tongue soothe your nervous system and calm your mind. Hold your breath for three seconds, then slowly exhale through your nose. Repeat five times.

6. Subtle Facial Relaxation to Alleviate Tension

When we feel tense or anxious, we tend to tighten our jaws, furrow our brows, or purse our lips. Just relaxing the face can shift your mood, Jones says. Close your eyes and feel the air rushing past the tip of your nose and softening the throat. As you inhale, imagine your cheekbones inflating just a tiny bit. Then with each exhale, allow your cheeks to get softer and heavier, feel the jaw relax, try to make the corners of your eyes heavier. Ever so slightly, lift the corners of your mouth. Take 10 breaths, giving the small facial muscles time to unclench and noticing your mood lift little by little.

7. Breathing to Cultivate Compassion for Relationship Tensions

We all have moments in our relationships—with friends, family, and coworkers—when we struggle to be patient. When you're in that frame of mind, you're actually disturbing your own peace. Instead of getting worked up, use this situation as an opportunity to relax, says Margaret Townsend of The Living Breath

Visualize the person setting you on edge: Notice what happens in your body when you think about them. Do you suddenly feel tight in your shoulders? Tense in your gut? Is it harder to breathe? Put a hand on the place where you feel the most tension. Notice the warmth of your hand there. Begin to breathe normally. Then imagine your breath carrying kindness and softness to this tense place. Do this for a few moments. Notice how your body and mind are affected and how your perspective on that relationship has shifted.

8. A Recharging Meditation When Family Time Gets Too Intense 

Often it's the very situations in which we most want to be calm and relaxed that incite tension. Anyone dealing with an abundance of family togetherness right now will understand. This breathing method from Lee can work as an antidote by promoting feelings of tranquility and repose. 

Begin by sitting down or lying on your back with your eyes closed. Turn your palms up so they face the ceiling. Let out a long, slow breath, like a big sigh. Then begin breathing in slowly. Count to four on the inhale. As you inhale, draw your fingers into your palms to form soft fists. Do the opposite on the exhale: Breathe out to a count of four as you slowly unfold your fingers. Repeat this several times. Moving your fingers gives you something to do to refocus your anxious energy, and breathing evenly, in and out, relaxes your system. Doing these two things together helps reintegrate your body, breath, and mind so you feel composed and are ready to meet whatever is ahead. 

9. A Mini Savasana Break When You Need a Rest 

Most yoga practices end with 5 or 10 minutes of savasana, a resting pose that allows the body and the mind to reset and recharge. You can give yourself a mini savasana anytime you have a few minutes to devote to slowing down, Jones says, even if it’s quickly between conference calls. 

Find a place to lie flat on your back. Place your arms at your sides, just wide enough that your armpits can breathe, and separate your legs a little, letting your ankles flop open. Without straining to breathe particularly deeply, feel the rib cage expand and contract, the chest rise and fall. Count at least 10 breaths before slowly wiggling your fingers and toes. Bring your arms overhead into a good-morning-style stretch, as though you were just waking up from a deep sleep. Bend your knees and roll to one side before easing your way up to a sitting position.