Helpful Resources

Breathing Exercise for Anxiety and Panic

Our nervous system has two main parts: The Sympathetic and the Para-Sympathetic. The Sympathetic part of our system is what riles us up and gets our blood flowing; it is activated when we get angry, scared, or anxious. The Para-Sympathetic part of our system acts as a self-soothing agent: it helps calm us back down, brings our emotions to a more tolerable level, and makes everything more manageable (our window of tolerance).

The way of breathing described in detail below is a breathing technique that activates our Para-Sympathetic Nervous system. If you follow the instructions specifically, it will no fail you; you are biologically programmed to respond to this way of breathing. So when you feel ready, read the instructions carefully, and give it a try.


1. Place your hand on your diaphragm (right below where your sternum ends, right above your stomach)

2. When you breathe in you are going to do so through your nose. And, what you are looking to do is take a breathe from your diaphragm/belly (instead of from your chest where most of us breath from when we are anxious). So when you take your breath in, you want your hand on your belly to move before your chest rises: this is called "diaphragmatic breathing"…

3. Once you have that breathe, you are looking to hold it for 3-5 seconds (whatever is comfortable)

4. When you release your breath, you want to breathe out regularly through your mouth.

5. Repeat for approximately 2-4 minutes.

Common Questions

How will I be able to tell if it's working?

After a minute or two you will likely notice you feel more calm, but people often yawn as well when it starts to work; and that is an excellent sign that your nervous system is calming down.

What if it doesn't seem to be working?

What is hardest for us to change is from "where" we breathe. We are so unaware sometimes of how we breathe, that we "think" we are doing what the directions say, when we are not. So check and make sure of the following four details:

1. That your "in" breath is starting from your belly

2. That your "in" breath is coming through your nose

3. That you are holding the breathe for a *few seconds

4. That you are breathing out through your mouth

I felt a little dizzy. Is that normal?

Yes. Sometimes people feel a little bit dizzy when they try this for the first time, which is completely normal, because you are taking some control of your breathing.  Also, make sure you are not holding your breath for too long, as that could also make you a little dizzy.  So, simply return to your normal pattern of breathing until you feel ready to try again. Remember: Your body knows how to breathe this way (diaphragmatically) - you breathed like this through most of your infancy (watch a baby sleep, they always breathe from their belly first). 

Anxiety changes how we breathe, so it will take some mindfulness and some practice, and may take a little bit of time for your body to remember, but you can do this.

Stacey can help you work with your anxiety to create a more peaceful way of being… 

Mental Health Links

The following links are listed to provide you with additional online mental health care information and counseling resources.

Alcoholics Anonymous

Center for Online Addiction

National Center for PTSD (U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs)

Information on PTSD - National Institute of Mental Health

Questions and Answers about Memories of Childhood Abuse

The National Domestic Violence Hotline Website

Depression and How Therapy Can Help

SAMHSA's Suicide Prevention

The National Alliance for Mental Illness

About Sexual Assault

The Rape Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN)

Eating Disorder Information

Note: Neither Stacey K. Wood, LMFT nor TherapySites is responsible for the content, claims or representations of the listed sites.

Contact Me Today

No Hours settings found. Please configure it