Posted by: Dr. Jennifer Fee | October 21, 2010

Don’t Dismiss the Value of Breathing!

 Lots of people dismiss the effectiveness of abdominal breathing for anxiety and say, “I tried that, it doesn’t really work.” The problem is that many of these people are not breathing properly–they are breathing from their chest (which is shallow breathing and can increase anxiety) rather than from their stomachs.  Proper breathing takes practice–sometimes weeks of practice before it is effective for lowering anxiety and stress levels.

The guidelines below were first written in 1995 by myself and my colleague, Dr. Diana Walcutt, who is now in Towson, Maryland.

4X4 Breathing

This is called the 4 by 4 breathing exercise because you should practice it for 4 minutes 4 times a day to learn to do it well.  If you are able, do this with your eyes closed, imagining a pleasant place.  This is calming and designed to help you manage stress.  There are two important things to learn about breathing:

 1.  Learn how to breathe from your diaphragm (from your tummy area) and make that pattern a part of your daily life.

2.  Become skilled at shifting to diaphragmatic breathing whenever you begin to feel stressed.

 Natural Breathing

 1.  Gently and slowly inhale a normal amount of air through your nose, filling only our lower lungs.    Place your hands on your tummy so that you can feel it rising and falling with each breath.   Count to 5 slowly as you do it.

 2.  Exhale slowly through your lips, counting to 5 as you do so.

 3.  Continue this slow, gentle breathing with a relaxed attitude, concentrating on filling only your  lower lungs.

 4.  As you breathe, slowly repeat the word “relax” or “calm” or some other word which means the same to you.

 If you have difficulty following the above instructions:

 1.  Lie down on a rug or your bed, with your legs relaxed and straight, a book on your tummy and  your hands by your side.

 2.  Let yourself breath normal easy breaths.  Notice what part of our upper body rises and fall with  each breath.  Rest a hand on that spot.  If that place is your chest, you are not taking full  advantage of your lungs. If the book is moving up and down, then, congratulations, you are doing it right!

 Deep Breathing

Deep breathing is an extension of this normal process. With one hand on your chest and one on your abdomen, take a slow, deep breath, filling your lower lungs, then your upper lungs.  When you exhale, let your upper lungs go first (causing your upper hand to drop), then your lower lungs (causing your lower hand to drop).

 Reminder: Too many deep breaths, instead of natural breaths in a row, will produce a sense of lightheadedness. This is not harmful; just return to natural breathing.


Natural slow breathing and the deep slow breathing several times each day. Practice natural breathing for a period of at least 4 minutes, 4 times a day.  The object is to train yourself to breathe from your diaphragm most of the time.

You can purchase an audio copy of this breathing exercise (10 minute track) for $4.95 USD by contacting me. 

Thanks for reading!      —Dr. Jennifer Fee



  1. […] in October I wrote about the power of using abdominal breathing for lowering anxiety (See Don’t Dismiss the Value of Breathing)  Since then, I’ve seen some claims on the internet claim that abdominal breathing is […]

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