Diaphragmatic breathing: learn to deal with anxiety

Posted Posted in opinião, time to think about

Jéssica Marques

Marisa Lima

Anxiety is one of the worst threats of this century, being responsible for many psychology interventions, all over the world. Taking this into account, it is important to remember that anxiety is not inherently bad, considering that, in moderate levels, may have a protective and adaptive function in people's lives. However, due to the increased tendency to exaggerate and overvalue daily concerns, mental health professional’s highlight this topic as a demanding concern in the community.

Anxiety can be described as an emotional experience, characterized by a restlessness state, that is accompanied by sensorial sensations. As matter of a fact, anxiety can be understood as a secondary emotion that develops from a diffuse and unspecified fear, that develops while facing a possible threat.

In 2020, the world pandemic of COVID-19 affected not only the physical wellbeing of people, but also the psychological one. This is largely reflected on the increased levels of fear and anxiety experienced by a large amount of people all over the world. All these facts show the importance of this topic for the global mental health and enhance the urge to solve this problem.

To promote the relief of these anxiety symptoms, often the diaphragmatic breathing is one of the techniques recommended, because it has, as a primary objective, relieving symptoms associated with the physiological component of anxiety. This technique aims not only to dissolve the association built between hyperexcitability and the concern felt by the person (Moura et al., 2018), but also to provide a wide sensation of tranquillity and well-being to the individual (Barlow, 2016, as cited in Lenhardtk & Calvetti, 2017).

In this sense, this technique is characterized as a learning process that includes the voluntary control of breathing while facing stressful situations. That way, the controlled breathing may provide an abstraction moment, where he can take control over his own body and achieve a higher state of relaxation (Barlow, 2016, as cited in Lenhardtk & Calvetti, 2017). Therefore, this technique promotes tension release, which consequently provides a widespread relaxation and a considerable reduction of anxiogenic feelings (Moura et al., 2018).

With this technique, the person is invited to lie on his back or sit comfortably, placing one hand on the abdominal area, just above the navel, and the other hand on the chest, allowing the person to pay attention and to identify the movements of inhaling and exhaling. Therefore, it is asked to breathe slowly, inhaling through the nose, while projecting your abdomen outward (filling the belly like a balloon) and counting to four. It is important to note that, on this whole exercise the main purpose is that the hand on the chest moves as little as possible. Then, the person must hold their breath for two seconds and then do the same path in a reversed way, relaxing the abdomen while exhaling through the mouth in a smooth way. This process can take approximately six seconds (Oliveira & Duarte, 2004, as cited in Wilhelm, 2015; Neto, 1998, as cited in Wilhelm, 2015). As we have seen, this movement consists in voluntarily expanding and contracting the abdominal region (Dias et al., 2015). 

However, this strategy implies systematic training so that there is a correct execution, enabling a better ventilation while facing an anxiogenic situation. In addition, it is suggested to perform it in a quiet environment, without any noise or bright lights. It is also recommended that, in the beginning, people start laying down (in an horizontal position) because it is a simpler position to control diaphragmatic movements, due to the lower pressure exerted. (Hough, 2001, as cited in Dias et al., 2015). With the recurrent use of this strategy, it is expected that the person will acquire the necessary skills to be able to execute it individually in any type of environment, context or time of the day, allowing the person to abstract from any internal and external anxiogenic stimulus.

The diaphragmatic breathing technique is considered the ground technique for relaxation, as it contributes to fight anxiety, through the movements of inhaling and exhaling the air. However, this strategy is not alone and can be complemented with other relaxation techniques. This way, people can also rely on meditative practices or creative activities (such as painting and music) to control some anxiolytic symptoms. Having all this into account, and because we are idiosyncratic human beings, it can be advantageous to explore multiple relaxation techniques, to discover the strategies that best suit each one of us. 

Finally, it is important to remember that anxiety does not have to be lived in solitude. Therefore, whenever anxiety becomes an obstacle to your well-being, do not hesitate in seeking psychological help. 

Lines of Psychological Help in Portugal:

SOS Voz Amiga – 213 544 545 / 912 802 669 

SNS 24 – 808 24 24 24 (extensão 4) 

Administração Regional de Saúde do Norte – 220 411 200

Fundação São João de Deus – 924 101 462



Dias, J. M. M., Monteiro, M. J. P. & Rainho, M. C. (2015). Gestão de Stresse: Técnicas de Respiração e Relaxamento e Gestão do Tempo. Revista Eletrónica de Educação e Psicologia, 6, 71 -81. 

Lenhardtk, G. & Calvetti, P. Ü. (2017). Quando a ansiedade vira doença? Como tratar transtornos ansiosos sob a perspectiva cognitivo-comportamental. Aletheia, 50(1-2), 111-122.

Moura, I. M., Rocha, V. H. C., Bergamin, G. B., Samuelsson, E., Joner, C., Schneider, L. F. & Menz, P. R. (2018). A terapia cognitivo-comportamental no tratamento do transtorno de ansiedade generalizada. FAEMA, 9(1), 423-441.

Willhelm, A. R., Andretta, I. & Ungaretti, M. S. (2015). Importância das técnicas de relaxamento na terapia cognitiva para ansiedade. Contextos Clínicos, 8(1), 79-86.