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Relaxation Techniques - Breathing Exercises
by Mark Sichel, LCSW and Alicia L. Cervini

The first thing we need to do is to calm down. We are trying to help you reduce your nervousness here. Why? Because when we are nervous, we have trouble learning, remembering, and integrating new strategies into our lives. If you are able to relax a little more, your overall feelings of panic will diminish. We are not telling you, the way people sometimes do, "Relax, it's nothing. Get over it!" We know you would relax if you could. However, these are tools that therapists use to help their clients calm down. Try to calm yourself down and follow the directions here, as learning tools for relaxation will make the entire panic course work better for you.

Our thoughts are intimately related to our bodily functions. When you think anxious, upsetting, and aggravating thoughts, your breathing will become rapid and shallow. At the same time, if you are breathing in a "nervous" way, in other words, rapidly and shallowly, you will not be able to think rationally or clearly. Your ability to calm yourself is diminished because your irregular breathing is preventing you from thinking clearly.

Therefore, you have a choice:
  • Change your thinking - your breathing will get deeper and slower
  • Change your breathing - your thinking will get calmer and clearer

In this lesson we give you an opportunity to learn both about your breathing as well as about your thoughts and how to control them.

Breathing Exercises
Read through this exercise first and then try it on your own. If you can control your breathing, you will have an easier time controlling your thoughts.

Sit back in your seat.

Close your eyes.

Take a deep breath.


Breathe again.

Now make your hands comfortable, while keeping your eyes closed. You have a choice of any comfortable hand position. We suggest one of the following three positions:

  1. One hand on your belly, one on your chest

  2. Palms of hands on your knees

  3. Hands folded in your lap

Now sit back, feet on the floor, hands comfortable.

Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose.

Feel your stomach expand as your lungs fill with air.

Now exhale through your mouth to the count of five.


Repeat while inhaling through the nose and exhaling through your mouth and slowly count to five.

Again, in through your nose and out through your mouth counting to five.

Good. You should be feeling more settled. This kind of breathing is called diaphragmatic breathing. It means to breath from the depths of your belly, rather than from your chest and nose.

Sit and enjoy the calmness for a few minutes, and when you are ready, go on to the next lesson where we'll be working on relaxing muscles and learning to visualize.

If you would like to continue learning new relaxation techniques, please read Relaxation Techniques: Visualization.

If you would like to start at the beginning of the Panic Disorder lessons, please read What to Expect When You are Diagnosed with a Panic Disorder.

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