How to Calm Anxiety in 5 Minutes

Voluntary slowing down of breath frequency can have psycho-physiological changes in brain-body interaction. When you use certain breathing techniques to slow down your breath, you can tap into your central nervous system and change your psychological status – for example, from being anxious to being calm. Anatomical studies, using fMRI, have shown that by breathing slowly, there is an increase in activity in the cortical and subcortical structures of our brain. This means we would experience an increase of comfort, relaxation, pleasantness, and a reduction of arousal, anxiety, depression, anger, and confusion.

In my clinical practice, I often teach my patients Abdominal Diaphragmatic Breathing. Here is a gest of what it looks like:

While sitting, place your right hand on your stomach, and left hand on your chest. As you breathe in, your right hand should feel your stomach moving forward/out and your left hand should not move at all. Or, practice in front of a mirror. Nothing should be moving above your right hand. Chest, shoulders, etc., all stay unmoving.

Once you have this established, you can then practice slowing down your breath by using the following instructions:

Breathe in for 4 seconds

Hold for 4 seconds

Breathe out for 4 seconds

Hold for 4 seconds

I usually tell my patients to do this pattern of breathing for few minutes and see what happens to their anxiety.

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Zaccaro, A., Piarulli, A., Laurino, M., Garbella, E., Menicucci, D., Neri, B., & Gemignani, A. (2018). How breath-control can change your life: A systematic review on psycho-physiological correlates of slow breathing. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00353