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When we feel anxious, overwhelmed, or panicked, someone will likely tell us to take a deep breath or breathe slowly in and out. This is because breathing has calming effects that help reduce tension at any particular moment. Breathing has also been found to be very helpful in dealing with other emotional problems such as stress and depression. Experts have developed several breathing exercises that can be done independently or incorporated in routines such as yoga to help ease such symptoms. This guide discusses some of the most effective breathing exercises for depression.

Deep Exhalations

Deep breathing is a popular breathwork technique with various benefits, including reduced anxiety and blood pressure. It involves taking deep and long coordinated breaths and can be combined easily with different other routines such as using a focus word or specific timing. However, it responds most directly to the sympathetic nervous system, which coordinates reactions and responses such as fight or flight. Taking too many deep breaths can cause hyperventilation which works counterproductively.

On the other hand, deep exhalations help calm the mind to reduce signs of anxiety and depression. They work with the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls an individual’s ability to calm down.

To practice deep exhalations, try taking a long and deep exhalation before taking in a deep breath. Try to squeeze out as much air from your lungs as possible before relaxing and breathing naturally. You can then try to breathe out longer than you breathe in, taking turns for about five minutes.

4-7-8 breathing

This is an effective breathwork technique that anyone can do easily anywhere. It also encourages breathing out over inhaling so that the individual can calm down. To get started, one should find a quiet and calm place where they can focus with minimal distractions. They should then sit in an upright position with the back straight.

  • With tongue at the back of the top front teeth, breath out with the mouth to make a ‘whoosh’ sound.
  • With mouth closed, breath in for four seconds.
  • Hold the breath for seven seconds.
  • Breath out with the mouth for eight seconds while making the ‘whoosh’ sound.
  • Repeat this for five times or more until you start to calm down.

Abdominal Breathing

Also referred to as diaphragmatic breathing, the technique involves the diaphragm in a series of inhalations and exhalations to induce calm and reduce anxiety symptoms. It focuses on reducing the burden on your breathing system by reducing the effort and energy required to inhale and exhale. This is done by slowing down the rate of breathing to reduce the body’s demand for oxygen.

Here is a simple process to do some basic diaphragmatic breathing exercises:

  • Stand, sit or lie down on a comfortable surface in a quiet and calm place.
  • Put one hand just above your heart and the other on the rib cage
  • Breathe in slowly and deeply through the nose. Your abdomen and chest should both rise a little.
  • Open your mouth and breath out. Purse your lips, then blow out the air gently to make a ‘whoosh’ sound.
  • Repeat the exercise for three or more minutes until you start feeling some relief.


Pranayama breathing, also called yogic breathing, is an Indian derivative with numerous and long-lasting benefits on an individual’s mental health. It is primarily incorporated in yoga and breathwork exercises to help promote mental wellbeing by reducing symptoms of anxiety, stress or depression. The word Pranayama is obtained from the words Prana, which means a vital force or energy and Yama, which means control regulation r discipline.

Yogic breathing is essential in achieving balance in the mind and also in the body. It has been used effectively to help treat mental problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other symptoms of anxiety.

To do Pranayama, find a comfortable place to sit or lie down without distractions. 

  • Put your hand or fingertips on your lower belly and breathe in. try to use your mind to channel the inhalation to this while feeling your stomach move up. Breathe out.
  • Move your fingers just below the collarbones and try to breathe in to expand this area.
  • Watch your throat and keep it relaxed to avoid tension.
  • Breath in again and focus the inhalation on your back. Feel how it comes up and falls with each breathe. 

Resonance Breathing

Also called coherence breathing, resonance breathing is popular for its immediate effect in reducing anxiety and inducing relaxation.

To perform resonance breathing, you will need to lie down in a calm, quiet and comfortable place.

  • Close your mouth and eyes and breathe in slowly for about six seconds
  • Breathe out for six seconds naturally without forcing the breath out.
  • During the breaths, focus on the movement of your body and how you feel.
  • Keep going for five minutes or more until you feel better.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Alternate nostril breathing is also easy to do and can be done separately or incorporated in yoga or other breathwork exercises. You can also combine it with meditation. To get started on alternate nostril breathing, find a comfortable place and sit with the body relaxed.

  • Close your eyes and relax your jaw
  • Put your left hand on the left knee with the palm facing up.
  • Raise the right hand and place the tips of the index and middle finger on the forehead between the eyebrows.
  • Place your little and ring fingers on the left nostril and the thumb on the right.
  • Breath in through both nostrils and close the right nostril with the thumb.
  • Breath out through the left nostril. Breathe in, close it with the ring finger, open the right one and breath out.
  • Keep alternating without breathing in or out too intensely. Keep going until you start feeling some relief.

In conclusion, there are just some of the most effective breathwork exercise for relieving depression and anxiety. The list is not nearly exhaustive, so you should try as many as you can until you find the one routine that works best for you.