Hyperventialtion and Anxiety

The link between breathing and how much anxiety we feel is well documented. It is important to not breath too much and also not to breath into the chest. The thing is many of us have got into bad breathing habits. We breath too rapidly or to shallow, taking air into our chest without moving our stomachs. People often advise those with anxiety to breath deeply. If this advice is misunderstood then it can result in further hyperventilation leading to more anxiety.

The correct way to breath is to take air in through the nose slowly and expand the stomach as the diaphragm, the chest shouldn’t move much at all. The stomach should then retract in as the air is pushed out slowly through the nose. If we get into good breathing habits anxiety will diminish.

I have heard various pieces of advice some of which might be helpful. Firstly, when resting you should not normally be able to hear a breath, it should be so slow and light that it is soundless.

If you stand up and put your hands on your hips, or just above your hips, you should be able to feel your abdomen expand as you breath in.


You should breath, depending on who you listen to, between six and ten times a minute (some say twelve). Therefore a full breath cycle should take between six and ten seconds.

You should try and relax all unnecessary tension from your face, head, neck and shoulders. Pay attention to the jaw and forehead as these often hold unnecessary tension. This tension can encourage chest breathing and hyperventilation. The muscle relaxation and correct breathing will help tremendously with anxiety.

The easiest way to learn diaphragmatic breathing is to lie on your back with your legs straight and to place one hand on your chest and one just below your navel. Practise breathing so your navel hand rises but the chest doesn’t move much at all. It can help to put something heavy on the navel, such as a large book.


Obviously stop all breathing exercises if you feel any pain or unpleasant symptoms and seek professional advice.