Focused Breathing: 6 Rules to Overcome Anxiety

Breathe Blog

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Imagine these scenarios:

~ You are getting ready to speak in front of a large crowd and are feeling anxious.
~ The big interview (or audition) that means so much to your career is coming up.
~ The performance that you have been rehearsing for hours on end is here.
~ You are about to take a big risk in terms of a new a creative project.

When you are stressed, anxious or just flat out scared, what happens to your breathing? Do you relax and breathe like a baby? Probably not!

In situations in which the mind tells the body that there is potential danger ahead,
the body prepares us for that danger. Unfortunately, in most cases there really is no danger, yet the body does just what it is conditioned to do when it gets its cue to prepare!

Our breathing begins to escalate, becoming shallow, shorter and faster. We might find ourselves holding our breath or gulping for air. We have all been in this place, yet do not realize how this anxious type of breathing interferes with our performance and the opportunity to do our absolute best in a pressure situation.

Unfortunately, shallow chest breathing is not only a reaction to stress, but also creates stress. This is the beginning of a vicious cycle that puts the body into a stress response state. You can, however, break the stress cycle by using focused breathing.

In my work with individuals who struggle with fear, stress and performance anxiety, I have discovered that deliberate, focused breathing is incredibly effective in inducing a relaxed state in your mind and body. In fact, research has proven that your heart rate, blood pressure, and even body temperature can be affected by how you breathe!

Focused, abdominal breathing is the single most powerful tool you can use to control stress and any kind of performance anxiety. This kind of breathing, when learned and applied, can help you maintain a relaxed state in your mind and body, allowing you to feel better and reduce stress before it grabs a hold of you.

The good news is that it is practically impossible to feel tense and anxious when practicing abdominal breathing!

6 Rules for Practicing Focused Breathing:

Rule 1– Prior to practicing, make sure your spine is straight.
Rule 2 – Inhale through your nose with a long, sustained breath 
(not fast, shallow breathing)
Rule 3 – As you inhale, imagine your lower stomach is a balloon that is filling up with air (you are actually filling up your lower lungs)
Rule 4 – Hold your breath for a count of 3
Rule 5 – Now exhale slowly and fully through your mouth for a count of 6, feeling your abdomen deflate
Rule 6 – Picture tension and anxiety leaving your body and associate your focused breathing with a word such as “Calm”….”Relax”

The idea is to make the relaxation breath a complete replacement for fast and shallow upper chest breathing.


The more you practice focused breathing, the more you will discover its benefits and become increasingly aware of your negative breathing patterns.

Commit to making the focused relaxation breath a complete replacement for the short and shallow breathing that has kept you from experiencing relaxation and an anxiety-free life.

Once proper, focused breathing techniques are learned and practiced regularly, you will have a major tool to help you overcome anxiety in any pressure situation.

Question: What has helped you reduce anxiety in a pressure situation? I’d love your thoughts on this. You can leave a comment by clicking the Comments box above.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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  • Visualizing something relaxing helps me. I remember a time we got to spend a week in Effingham, Illinois. I was on a big black inner tube with my little child just laying on top of me on Lake Sarah. That was relaxing. I also visualize what it would be like to be in a boat with the Lord. That is relaxing to me as I can hear the water lap up against the sides of the boat. And he is asleep.

    • nlazaris

      Great comment! Yes, visualization is a wonderful technique to focus on the things that matter to us as well as being able to put us in a less stressful mindset. Thanks for sharing!