WRPA top banner
Western Reserve Psychological Associates, Inc.Empowering change for over 40 years
> return to archived articles >

Archived Article

Diaphragmatic Breathing: A Technique for Managing Stress, Anxiety and Panic

All relaxation and self-calming procedures for managing stress and anxiety have breathing control and training as a common and necessary factor.

Thoracic breathing (chest breathing), shallow breathing, sighing and hyperventilation are common dysfunctional breathing patterns when we are tense, anxious or angry.

Hyperventilation (over breathing) decreases the level of CO2 (carbon dioxide) in the blood, which causes the blood to become less acidic. When the acidity of the blood decreases, oxygen is bound more tightly to the hemoglobin in the blood, and oxygen has more difficulty passing to the tissues of the body, thus reducing the amount of oxygen available for adequate physiological functioning.

Acute hyperventilation occurs when we are suddenly confronted with increased physical activity or frightening or stressful events that resolve quickly. Chronic hyperventilation affects every system in the body and causes significant physical symptoms and complaints. Among these are:

HeadachesIncreased Muscle Tension and Cramps
DizzinessIrregular and Rapid Heart Rate
FaintnessTightness in the Chest
Anxiety/PanicNon-cardiac Chest Pain
Feelings of UnrealitySweating
Cold Hands or FeetBlurred Vision
ShiveringTingling in the Limbs
IrritabilityMuscle Weakness, Fatigue

Those experiencing these symptoms often lie down, go to bed and passively wait to feel better, or take medication. Some may go to the Emergency Room only to be told that there is nothing wrong with them. With this reassurance, the symptoms may recede, and they typically feel better until the symptoms return at another time.

Hyperventilation can be controlled by learning Diaphragmatic Breathing! Try the following basic steps and enjoy the results!

  1. Lie or sit in a comfortable, quiet place where you won’t be disturbed.
  2. Put one hand on your chest and the other hand over your navel.
  3. Exhale all your air until your belly pulls in.
  4. Now imagine you have a balloon underneath your navel that inflates as you inhale and deflates as you exhale.
  5. Breathe in through your nose and pull the air deeply into your lungs. Feel your belly expanding – like a balloon blowing up. Exhale slowly through your mouth and feel your belly go down, like a balloon deflating. Softly say “haa” on your exhale.
  6. Breathe in slowly – inhale to a count of 3 and exhale to a count of 6 – taking twice as long to exhale as you did to inhale.
  7. Keep your shoulders as relaxed as possible - they should not rise as you inhale.

After taking 4 deep breaths as described above, continue breathing naturally and rhythmically through your nose, with a hand on your belly, letting it rise and fall gently as you inhale and exhale. Note the natural calming and relaxation that accompanies each exhalation. Now just continue to practice for 10-15 minutes, enjoying the calming effects of Diaphragmatic Breathing.

If you have found this calming, try and practice breathing for a few minutes each day and/or in response to specific stressors.


Harvey, John (1998). Total Relaxation – Healing Practices for Body, Mind and Spirit. New York. Kodansha International.

Kabat-Zinn, Jon (1990). Full Catastrophe Living-Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. New York. Delta.

Richard C. Rynearson, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist

> return to archived articles >