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Here’s What to Do If Breathing Exercises Just Make You More Anxious

Women having trouble doing traditional breathing exercises, forehead scrunched in frustration.
fizkes/Shutterstock

Learning to tune into inhales and exhales is one of the most common techniques used to calm a person down, bringing them back into the present moment and reducing their stress levels. Still, there’s always a chance it won’t work for everyone.

If you’re reading this and saying: “Yep, that’s me,” and if trying to sit in a comfortable seat, closing your eyes and taking deep breaths only aggravates your nervous state and anxiety, instead of forcing yourself to do it repeatedly, here are some other things you can do to try to chill out.

Listen to Music

Some people simply cannot imagine their lives without music and even play specific songs to put them in the desired mood, whether it’s to cheer them up, indulge their sadness, or help them find their zen after a hectic day at work.

Take a page from their workbook and browse through your Spotify songs and create a playlist of those tunes that you know will put a smile on your face and help you relax. If that makes you dance around the house with a wooden spoon as your microphone, even better.

Music is known to help with relaxation and stress release as the beats can synchronize with our relaxing alpha brain waves and send signals to our brain cells to literally chill out. Additionally, music can stimulate our body to release the feel-good endorphins and increase the production of our happiness hormone, serotonin. Win-win!

The Power of Touch

A candle on a tray beside a soft blanket and decorative items.
Daria Minaeva/Shutterstock

Our senses are incredibly powerful, and they cannot only bring us to the present moment and help us focus on the specific smell, sound, taste, vision point, or texture, but they can also transfer us into the past or the future with the different association types our brain comes up with.

Closing your eyes enhances all other senses, so for the sake of this exercise try to keep your eyes closed throughout. Take a piece of cloth that’s smooth, an object that’s rough, and something else that’s soft, and place them in front of you. Close your eyes and grab one of the objects. Explore it with your fingers and focus on the little curves, sides, corners, and volume.

Go as slow as you possibly can, as if you want to mentally map the entire object, then repeat the same with the other two. Focus on the differences and similarities, on sizes and shapes, on density and volume.

Then, open your eyes and bring a few blocks of ice in front of you. Ice is a sensory shock as it’s cold and uncomfortable. Place it in your palm and watch it melt. Notice every second of its transformation and gently feel your breath return to normal.

You can do the same trick with a candle as well, but without placing her in your palm, of course. Watch the flame flicker and really intensely focus on the shapes it creates in the air. It’s mesmerizing and hypnotizing at the same time!

Observation Techniques

Similar to the one above, but this time using all of your senses, observation techniques can truly get you grounded or thrown back into your past, associating your sensory experiences with your memories.

One of the most famous observation techniques is called the 54321 technique, and it starts by observing and saying five things you can see, four things you can touch around you, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

You can repeat this exercise as many times as you want, switching up the numbers with the senses as you go, and giving your mind something to get occupied with instead of whatever is stressing you out.

Breathe in the Fresh Air

Step outside your home or your office and take a walk around your neighborhood. Simply changing the scenery and breathing in the fresh air can already do a lot, as your brain gets exposed to different senses and experiences.

It’s no wonder how many runners say they go for a run to “clear their head.” Fresh air, nature, and a change of surroundings can help you relax and calm your mind, as you’re not obsessing over the thing that’s bothering you. And no, you don’t have to go for a run, even a 10-minute walk will do.

Call a Friend

When you find yourself in a situation where nothing seems to calm you down and your mind seems to be racing 100 mph, pick up your phone and call a friend or a family member and tell them what’s been going on. Let the frustration and anxiety out of your system and feel the burden on your chest get a little lighter.

Sometimes, all we really need is someone to listen to us without judgment, even if they don’t offer any advice or help. Just the act of sharing it with someone gives you the opportunity to listen to your own words and maybe even figure out some things along the way.

After you’re done, let them distract you with their own stories by telling you a juicy gossip or simply something that’s been going on in their lives. Listen to them and get as engaged in their story as possible, leaving all of your troubles and worries aside. Finding a way to distract yourself by yourself can be harder than you think, so grabbing your phone and dialing your best friend’s number is always a good idea.


For those times when breathing and meditating don’t seem to work, try out these five techniques and feel your breath return to normal, and your brain getting the deserved break.

Karla Tafra Karla Tafra
Karla is a certified yoga teacher, nutritionist, content creator and an overall wellness coach with over 10 years of international experience in teaching, writing, coaching, and helping others transform their lives. From Croatia to Spain and now, the US, she calls Seattle her new home where she lives and works with her husband. Read Full Bio »

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