Breathing: A Powerful Tool to Reduce Anxiety

We all breathe. It’s something we do naturally, often without even thinking about it. But did you know that conscious focus on your breath can bring remarkable health benefits, especially for those who struggle with meditation?

A recent study conducted among 108 participants found that just five minutes of daily breath techniques can provide similar benefits for mood and anxiety as five minutes of daily mindfulness meditation. In fact, participants in the breathing technique group experienced even better results in some aspects.

Neuroscientist and co-author Andrew Huberman explains, “If you’re looking to improve sleep, reduce daytime stress, or recover from intense work or training, interventions that involve brief, structured breathwork can be powerful tools—and they don’t cost a thing.”

During the study, participants reported on their mood and vital signs, including heart rate, breathing rate, and sleep. Those who dedicated five minutes to focused breathing each day experienced the most stress relief by the end of the month, with consistent improvements in their mental and physiological well-being.

The study explored three different breathing techniques, and one of them stood out as the most effective. Participants who practiced cyclic sighing—pronounced and prolonged exhalations—showed greater improvements compared to those who practiced box breathing (matching inhalation, pause, and exhalation durations) or cyclic hyperventilation (longer inhalations and shorter exhalations).

It’s important to note that all the breathing techniques and mindfulness meditation in the study showed benefits. However, the breathing technique groups reported a higher increase in positive emotions compared to the mindfulness meditation group.

There’s something special about controlled breathing that sets it apart, at least according to this study. “Controlled breathing directly influences respiratory rate, which can lead to immediate physiological and psychological calming effects by increasing vagal tone during slow expiration,” explains one researcher. While mindfulness meditation may decrease sympathetic tone over time, that’s not its primary purpose or an expected immediate effect.

As humans, we sometimes feel powerless over our bodies, which can be a scary reality. However, exerting a moment of control, even though a simple sigh, can make a significant difference.

So, if you’re seeking relief from anxiety, consider incorporating conscious breathing into your daily routine. It’s a powerful tool that can help you achieve better sleep, reduce stress, and improve overall well-being. Take a deep breath, embrace the calm, and let the benefits of focused breathing work their magic.