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Return anxiety: 5 easy breathing exercises to help calm you in seconds

Whether you’re returning to the office, meeting up with friends or simply being in a crowded space…

Many people will be feeling the strain on their mental health over the coming months as they deal with re-entry anxiety.

Luckily, our breathing is a remarkable tool that is free and easy to use and can help us regain control over our emotions. By focusing on the rhythm, rate and depth of breath, we can create a sense of calmness.

We speak to Rhea Sheedy, trained in the Royal Academy of Dance style and founder of Ballet Fusion, a unique fitness fusion company built upon traditional ballet techniques with elements of pilates, yoga and fitness.

Her 6-minute breathwork routine (with high-resolution videos demonstrating each exercise) which can be done anywhere and by anyone (even children!), helps with anxiety-inducing situations:

Alternate nostril breathing (1 minute)

  1. Lift your right hand up toward your nose and exhale completely. Place your right thumb gently over your right nostril.
  2. Inhale through your left nostril and then cover the left nostril with your index finger.
  3. Open the right nostril and exhale through this side. Inhale through the right nostril and then cover this nostril.
  4. Open the left nostril and exhale through the left side before repeating.

“Nostril breathing is known in some yoga practices as ‘nadi shodhana’ which in sanskrit means ‘channel purification.’ It’s thought to help promote balance, clarity and relaxation. Biologically, it’s proven to improve lung function, lower heart rate, blood pressure and sympathetic stress. A great exercise to do before entering a crowded space, before a big meeting or presentation and lovely to calm you down before bed,” Rhea explains.

Cupped hand breathing (1 minute)

  1. Cup your hands together and place lightly over your nose and mouth.
  2. Then breathe in and out slowly no more than 6-12 times. As you breathe out the CO2 from your lungs collects in your hands and you can re-breathe it to help restore the balance of oxygen and CO2 in your blood.

“In moments of stress or panic, we breathe faster (almost hyperventilating sometimes), which means we quickly lose carbon dioxide. This can lead to dizziness, weakness, lightheadedness, tingling in the hands and feet – which can add to the anxiety, making everything seem worse.

Although we’re taught that increased oxygen is good for us, our CO2 levels have a direct impact on our levels of calmness. Breathing slowly through cupped hands quickly decreases the amount of CO2 we are losing and the symptoms quickly subside, allowing our heart rate to slow down and body to readjust. A great technique which can be used in the most discreet way,” she says.

Shoulder lifts with exhaling (1 minute)

  1. Stand with the feet hip-width apart and a strong posture (lift the pelvic floor, engage the abs).
  2. Inhale through the nose while lifting the shoulders up towards the ears.
  3. Exhale through the mouth as you drop the shoulders allowing them to relax. Repeat four to five times.

“Notice how much more relaxed you feel and the tension releasing from your upper body. We hold a lot of tension in our neck and shoulders and this quick check-in will help to relieve that pent-up stress,” Rhea explains.

Port de Bras with breathing (2 minutes)

  1. Stand with the feet hip-width apart and a strong posture (lift the pelvic floor, engage the abs).
  2. Inhale through the nose – lifting the arms through 1st, to 2nd position.
  3. Exhale through the mouth into a forward fold – letting the head and arms drop & relax.
  4. Inhale through the nose while rolling up through the spine.
  5. Open the arms out to 2nd inhaling through the nose. Repeat this exercise.

“This is a great exercise that can really help to centre you and calm your mind. I love this one because many of us sit at a desk all day so a lot of tension can build up in our back. Not only does this help to calm us but it’s also great at stretching out the back,” she explains.

Prayer inhale, push exhale (1 minute)

  1. Start in either a standing or sitting positing and inhale, bring the palms together and raising the hands towards the sky.
  2. Exhale as you push the arms down, palms facing the ground.
  3. Repeat, imagining you are inhaling peace and relaxation and exhaling stress and worry.

“This can be done sitting or standing and is a lovely movement to do before bed or first thing in the morning,” she says.

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