Taming Anxiety by “Focusing on Breathing” – 3 Easy Exercises

By Suryanarayana Chennapragada

We all pass through our anxious moments, just as we do our happy ones. Anxiety is a part of life. It may kick in before taking a test, waiting for a dental procedure or for no apparent reason. For most of us, it stops bugging after a while. But for some, the anxiety hangs in the mind like a heavyweight. This may show up as rapid breathing, tensed muscles, loss of focus, panic attacks or a racing heart. It sucks out the energy. They can’t carry on with their normal activities. If you are looking for a quick fix, you may give ‘Focusing on breathing’ a try. It helped some people like a charm. Here are some tips.

911 mode: Close your eyes. Breathe in quickly through the mouth. Blow air through the lips, as if blowing through an imaginary straw held between the lips. The out-breath should be slow and long. The longer you blow, greater will be the anti-anxiety effect. Continue this practice till you come out of acute anxiety. Immediately follow up with one of the following modes, to reinforce the relief from anxiety and carry on with life as usual.

Tip mode: In this mode, we breathe in and out through the nose and ‘count the breaths’ during the out-breaths. We improve the focus on breathing by using the fingers, to keep track of the count.

Here is how: Close your eyes. Begin with one hand, say the left hand. Touch the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger. Count three breaths as explained below under the ‘Counting mode.’ Move the thumb to the tip of the ring finger and count three breaths. Repeat counting three breaths at the tips of the middle finger and index finger. When you get to the thumb, touch the tip of the index finger to the base of the thumb and count three breaths. Note that you will be counting three breaths at each finger which works out to fifteen breaths per one hand. Now, switch to the other hand and repeat the same practice. Continue practicing by switching the hands until you feel good enough to resume your normal activities.

‘Counting mode’: In this mode, we count the breaths in the mind, in sets of three. How?

For better impact, keep your eyes closed, if the situation permits. Else, let your eyes continuously focus on a small but conspicuous target like a mark on the wall in front of you, the tip of a pen or pencil,  a small design feature on the carpet and similar ones.

  1. When breathing in, feel the slight coolness inside the nose. During the out-breath, slowly and silently, say the number ‘one…one…one…’
  1. Breathe in the second time. During the out-breath, say ‘two…two…two…’
  1. Breathe in the third time. During the out-breath, say ‘three…three…three…’

Don’t count beyond the number ‘three’. After the third breath, restart from number ‘one.’

Continue counting the breaths, in sets of three, till the wave of anxiety passes. We can practice this ‘counting mode’ inconspicuously, anywhere, anytime. No one would know what we are doing!  

Here are some practical tips: Repeating the same number three times is not essential, for this practice to work. Initially, your out-breath may be short and you may be able to count each number only once. Not a problem. In such a case, prolong the silent sound of that number to last to the end of the out-breath: during the first out-breath, say ‘oooone………’,  second out-breath ‘twooo….’ and third out-breath ‘threeee….’  As the out-breath gradually becomes longer, by itself, you may increase the repetitions to two and three.

Don’t confuse this with the controlled breathing practices of Yoga. In ‘focusing on breathing’, we passively watch the breaths as they happen without trying to change their pattern. We breathe and count in a relaxed manner, enjoying its healing effect on the mind, body, and spirit. An appealing feature of this practice is that there are no rules regarding place, posture, and length of practice.

Do you like to give ‘Focusing on breathing’ a try when anxiety hits you next time?


Anxiety – Basics from National Institute of Health

Focusing on breathing – Everything about ‘Focusing on breathing’ which can help adults and children as well.   

Stress – Its Causes, Effects and Solutions  – Several authentic resources

Suryanarayana Chennapragada

Suryanarayana Chennapragada

Suryanarayna Chennapragada is the author of the website countingbreaths.com. His passion is to introduce beginners to simple stress relieving practices that they can practice daily on their own, in spite of their busy schedules. He has been offering seminars and classes on such practices to adults and children for more than 13 years.




About , 

on the Web
More on: Anxiety, Mindfulness
Latest update: November 30, 2016
Open Forest