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Breathing Exercises for Anxiety in Recovery

Breathing Exercises for Anxiety in Recovery

Finding positive ways to manage your mental health is a vital part of the recovery process, especially if you have a substance use disorder and a co-occurring anxiety disorder. At Waypoint Recovery Center in Cameron, South Carolina, we encourage clients to utilize several different coping mechanisms to manage anxiety—including breathing exercises. Here, we’ve provided instructions for several exercises you can use whenever you’re feeling anxious. 

Diaphragmatic Breathing (Deep Belly Breathing)

Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as deep belly breathing or abdominal breathing, is a breathing technique that involves engaging the diaphragm—a dome-shaped muscle located between your chest and abdomen. Practicing diaphragmatic breathing can be particularly beneficial for people with anxiety, as it helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system to promote a state of calmness and reduce the physiological effects of stress


  1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.
  2. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose.
  3. As you inhale, allow your abdomen to expand outward. Focus on breathing deeply into your diaphragm. You should feel your abdomen rising while your chest remains relatively still.
  4. Exhale slowly through pursed lips. As you exhale, allow your abdomen to fall inward.
  5. Continue this rhythmic breathing pattern, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. 
  6. Keep your shoulders relaxed and avoid any tension in your neck and chest. The goal is to promote a sense of calmness and relaxation.

4-7-8 Breathing (Relaxing Breath)

The 4-7-8 breathing technique, also known as the relaxing breath, is a simple but effective breathing exercise designed to promote relaxation, reduce stress, and ease tension. This technique was popularized by Dr. Andrew Weil, a renowned integrative medicine practitioner. The numbers 4-7-8 refer to the specific counts for each phase of the breath cycle. 


  1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position, keeping your back straight.
  2. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of 4. Focus on filling your lungs with air.
  3. Hold your breath for a mental count of 7. 
  4. Exhale completely and audibly through your mouth for a mental count of 8. Allow the breath to flow out naturally.
  5. Inhale again through your nose for a count of 4. Continue the cycle by holding for 7 counts and exhaling for 8 counts.
  6. Practice the 4-7-8 breathing cycle for four breaths initially. As you become more comfortable, you can gradually increase the number of cycles.

Box Breathing (Square Breathing)

Box breathing, also known as square breathing, is a powerful and simple breathing technique used to promote relaxation, reduce stress, and enhance focus. It involves a pattern of equal-length inhalations, holds, exhalations, and pauses that form a “box” or square shape. 


  1. Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight. Alternatively, you can lie down if that’s more comfortable.
  2. Inhale quietly and deeply through your nose for a count of 4. Focus on filling your lungs with air during this time.
  3. Hold your breath in for a count of 4. Keep your lungs filled but without creating tension in your chest.
  4. Exhale slowly and completely through your mouth for a count of 4. Allow all the air to leave your lungs.
  5. Hold your breath out for a count of 4 before starting the next cycle. Use this pause to relax and prepare for the next breath.
  6. Continue this rhythmic pattern of inhaling for 4 counts, holding for 4 counts, exhaling for 4 counts, and pausing for 4 counts.
  7. Start with a few cycles and gradually increase the duration as you become more comfortable with the practice.

Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)

Alternate nostril breathing, also known as nadi shodhana, is a yogic breathing technique that aims to balance the flow of energy in the body, calm the mind, and promote overall well-being. This practice involves alternating the breath between the left and right nostrils. It is believed to harmonize the two hemispheres of the brain and is often used as a preparatory practice for meditation.


  1. Sit comfortably with your spine straight. If needed, you can use a cushion or chair for support.
  2. Place your left hand on your left knee in a relaxed gesture, with your palm facing upward. Use your right hand, specifically the thumb and ring finger.
  3. Use your right thumb to close off your right nostril and your ring finger to close off your left nostril. Your right middle and index fingers can rest on your forehead or between your eyebrows.
  4. Start by exhaling completely through both nostrils.
  5. Close your right nostril with your right thumb. Inhale slowly and deeply through your left nostril.
  6. Close your left nostril with your ring finger, release the right nostril, and exhale completely through the right nostril.
  7. Inhale slowly and deeply through your right nostril.
  8. Close your right nostril with your right thumb, release the left nostril, and exhale completely through the left nostril.
  9. Continue alternating nostrils for several rounds. Each inhale and exhale through one nostril completes one cycle.

Let Us Provide the Support You Need to Be Successful in Your Recovery Journey

At Waypoint Recovery Center, our experienced addiction treatment professionals provide personalized care for men and women with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Let our South Carolina substance use disorder treatment services provide the personalized support you need to move forward.