Anxiety and substance abuse disorders is well-established. Recent research shows that 20% of Americans who have anxiety or other mental health disorders also develop an alcohol or drug addiction. Additionally, approximately 20% of those with substance use disorders also have a diagnosed anxiety or mood disorder, although many others in treatment for substance abuse either meet criteria for a mood disorder or have symptoms of anxiety that affect their life and recovery.
Symptoms of anxiety can compromise the process of recovering from alcohol or drug addiction for both those with a dual diagnosis and those who are experiencing temporary anxiety because of withdrawal. The presence of anxiety symptoms can increase the risk of relapse if the individual turns to self-medication to control symptoms. Therefore, it is essential that anxiety is addressed as part of your addictions treatment.
There are several ways to reduce anxiety symptoms. Some options, including benzodiazepines and other anti-anxiety medications, might bring more harm than good during your recovery because of the increased risk of addiction to these medications.
The safest option for coping with anxiety is to use a holistic approach, which focuses on non-drug options, including yoga, tai chi, and deep breathing exercises for anxiety. The following deep breathing exercises for anxiety can help you cope with feelings of worry, panic, stress, or nervousness during your recovery and throughout your day.
5 Deep Breathing Exercises for Anxiety that You Can Do Anywhere!
You don’t need to carve out hours to do these important self-care exercises. In fact, taking even 10 minutes a day to perform your deep breathing exercises and guided imagery for anxiety relief can be beneficial! If you can dedicate 20 to 30 minutes a day to practice deep breathing relaxation techniques, you might even experience additional benefits, such as:
- Decreased heart rate
- Muscle relaxation
- Decreased blood pressure
- Increased nitric oxide
- Increased oxygen to your brain
In addition, unlike yoga or tai chi, deep breathing can be done anywhere and at any time – in the shower, in bed, in your car, at your office, or even in line at the grocery store.
Simple Abdominal Breathing
Simple abdominal breathing is one of the easiest deep breathing exercises for anxiety to learn. You can do it while sitting, standing, or laying down. Make sure your shoulders are relaxed. Simply inhale deeply and slowly through your nose, causing your abdomen to expand, rather than your chest. Then, relax your jaw and purse your lips slightly, and exhale just as slowly as you inhaled. Repeat this cycle for several minutes.
If you find that breathing slowly is difficult, start with inhaling and exhaling for three seconds. You can gradually increase this time as you practice.
Teddy Bear Breathing
For this exercise, you will need to lie on your back with one hand on your chest and your favorite childhood teddy bear or another object that brings you comfort on your belly button. Next, close your eyes and relax your entire body. Slowly inhale through your nose, watching your teddy bear slowly rise. Once you have taken a deep breath, hold your breath for three seconds, and then slowly breathe out. Continue this exercise for several minutes.
To do focused breathing, first think of a word, phrase, or picture in your mind that helps you to feel relaxed. Perhaps that is an image of crashing waves, an inspirational or scripture passage, or a mantra you connect with. Then, close your eyes and take a few slow deep breaths. As you breathe in, imagine that all of the air you are taking in is filled with peace and calm. In your mind, follow that peace and calm throughout your body, feeling it fill your lungs, then your chest, then your entire body to your toes and fingers.
As you breathe out, imagine stress, anxiety, tension, and negative thoughts attaching to the breath and leaving your body. Allow your breath to push the negative far away from you. Repeat this cycle for several minutes, breathing in calm and peace and breathing out stress and negative thoughts.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
While this exercise is generally performed lying down, you can do it standing or sitting if necessary. First, get into a comfortable position. Take a few slow deep breaths to focus your mind. Then, breathe in slowly through your nose while tensing the muscles in your feet. As you breathe out slowly through your mouth, release the tension. Repeat this technique as you work your way up your body – your calves, thighs, rear end, belly, chest, hands, arms, shoulders, neck, and face. For your last cycle, tense your entire body as you breathe in, and then relax everything at once while breathing out.
Guided Visualization or Meditation
If you have access to a phone or computer, you can use guided meditation or visualization to help with your deep breathing. Meditation apps like Calm, Buddhify, Headspace, or The Mindfulness App can bring your deep breathing exercises to the next level by talking you through a meditation or visualization exercise that focuses your mind on an inspirational message or calming image while you are breathing. Most of these apps allow you to choose the meditation that is most meaningful to you at the moment.
Using a guided meditation app is great for people who want to integrate meditation and deep breathing into their daily routines but aren’t able to attend meditation classes. They are also great for those that experience anxiety when attempting breathing exercises and need another voice to focus on.
Try one of these five deep breathing exercises for anxiety the next time you are feeling nervous or stressed. You might find that focusing on your breathing and relaxing your body is all that you need to get through an anxiety or panic attack, helping you to avoid medications or other substances that can be more harmful in the long-run. Deep breathing and meditation are healthy and natural ways to combat both everyday worries and chronic anxiety!