Calming anxiety with the breath

A popular strategy for helping with the physical experience of anxiety (the “F” in the thoughts-feelings-behaviours triangle) is using the breath. We all hear that slow or deep breathing is helpful for dialing down anxiety and stress, but do you know the science behind it? 

Why do it? When we are anxious, our breathing can become irregular without us even realizing it. Shallow, rapid breathing can lead to offloading too much carbon dioxide, causing dizziness, headaches, tingling extremities and a racing heart. 

How it works: When we breathe deeply, more carbon dioxide stays in our blood, which quiets the emotional parts of the brain. Focusing on your breathing also takes your mind away from sources of stress, and helps you feel more present in the moment. The more we practise breathing strategies, the more effective they will be when we need them. And even better: breathing strategies are portable—and free!

Watch students and educators describing the benefits of breathing strategies:

Try It Out! Before you move on to the next section of EASE 8–12, take a one-minute break for yourself and experience calm breathing.

breathe in and breathe out

Important Consideration: Breathing strategies are most effective if practised regularly enough that they feel natural and familiar. If you invite your class to try it out (or opt out), expect this to be difficult for some students. Slowing down and focusing on breathing can sometimes be uncomfortable, especially if shortness of breath, dizziness or asthma are triggers for anxiety.
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