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Three breathing strategies to help curb anxiety

Anxiety can feel overwhelming and sometimes can feel completely debilitating. A strategy to ease anxiety many of us will hear or use is deep breathing. Deep breathing can be very helpful to slow the body down, but sometimes a few cues are needed to properly guide the breath. One important thing to remember is that you don’t need a ton of tools in your toolbox to curb anxiety in the moment. A great place to start is to find one breathing strategy that works well for you and continue to practice just that one strategy. The more you practice that strategy, the more likely you will be to remember to use it at a time of anxiety. The most helpful tool is the one that you remember to use. 


Here are three examples of breathing strategies. See which one might work best for you and continue to practice it daily.  


Square breathing – Find a square-like shape (rectangle will work too) in your environment. This could be a window, floor or ceiling tile, or computer screen. Pretend you are drawing the square with your breath. Inhale, as you use your eyes and follow up the side of the square. Pause your breath when you get to the corner of the square. Exhale as you follow the next side of the square. Pause when you reach the corner. Continue this pattern until you have completed the entire square. Slowing down your breath and pausing between each inhale and exhale. A pattern you could use is 4/4/4. Inhale for 4 seconds, pause for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds. Adjust this pattern based on what is comfortable for you. An additional tip to this strategy is to use a finger and trace a square on the opposite palm as you breathe. 


Focused nostril breathing – Slowly breathe in and out through your nose. As you inhale, notice the air coming in your nostril, passing the tip of your nose. Does the air feel warm or cold? Do you notice a difference between your right and left nostrils? As you exhale, again notice the air as it passes the tip of your nose. Has anything changed? With each breath, see if you can make the breaths become slower and longer. 


Balloon breathing – As you inhale, picture a straw going from your mouth, down your throat and into your belly. A balloon is attached to the straw, filling up in your belly with each inhale. As you exhale, the balloon is completely deflating and the air is slowly leaving the belly, exiting the straw. An added helper to this strategy is to place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Deep breathing should allow for the hand on your chest to be steady, while the hand on your belly is rising and falling with your breath.


If you continue to struggle with anxiety and would like to speak with a counsellor, reach out to



Shannon Baustad, MC, is experienced in many areas such as anxiety, depression, and relationships, plus many more. For more information on Shannon and her work, click here to link to her full bio page.