June 14, 2023 by Thriving Now Support

Anxiety Constricted Breathing

Anxiety and stress affect both our body and our mind DEEPLY. Learning to self-manage your emotions and how they affect you physically is a core skill necessary for living a thriving life.

If you were portraying an anxious person on stage, how would you breathe? Would you take slow, deep breaths? Or would you take shallow inhales constricted by tension in your throat and chest?

Anxiety Constricted Breathing 1

When we breathe with shallow, constricted breaths, we are adopting one aspect of the emotional posture of anxiety. It is almost impossible to feel deeply calm and relaxed when we are telling our body, through our breathing, that we feel unsafe.

It’s easy to tell ourselves when we’re anxious, “Slow down, relax, take a deep breath” when in reality we may have significant challenges to overcome:

(1) We may physically have forgotten how to take a slow, deep breath.

(2) The muscles of our rib cage, diaphragm, abdomen, and neck may be chronically out of balance and unable to cooperate to allow deep breathing.

(3) Our base emotional state may be one of anxiety and suppressed fear, and from that state deep breathing is extremely difficult (almost like trying to take a deep breath through a straw; it takes that much effort).

(4) Pain anywhere in the body can cause all our muscles to “brace for impact,” leading to tension all over including the breathing muscles.

For example, I was working with a young client years ago. She suffered from nearly constant anxiety and was taking medication to provide some minimal relief. A quick check of her breathing depth showed that it was only a “4” on a 10 point subjective scale. And this was after we had done a full session of massage therapy!

So let me ask you, is your anxiety causing the shallow breathing, or is the shallow breathing reinforcing the sense of anxiety? Or BOTH!

Anxiety Constricted Breathing 2

Situations that make us anxious further contract the breathing muscles. Once constricted, even in non-anxiety-producing situations, our body doesn’t feel relaxed. The mind keeps sensing that there must be something to be fearful about because “the body is not breathing in a relaxed way.”

Let’s see if we can break that vicious cycle using a simple EFT Tapping procedure to release the constriction. If you need to review the EFT Tapping Points, do so now.

(If you do have a chronic disease such as asthma, COPD, pneumonia, congestive heart failure, emphysema, etc., please do not do this exercise if if deep breathing might cause you any distress; when in doubt, as always, consult a medical professional).

Constricted Breathing Technique

At the top of this lesson, you can start the audio and tap along by clicking the play button, or download the audio for listening on your computer or portable player by clicking the MP3 link.

First, we’re going to take three deep breaths. On the third breath, I want you to judge on a scale of 0-10 (where 0 means you can’t breathe at all and 10 is the deepest breath you could possibly take), how deep are you breathing right now?

Breathe in……  breathe out…..
Breathe in……  breathe out…..
Breathe in……  breathe out with a big sigh….

Okay, how deep a breath was that last one? 0-10. Make a note of your number and let’s continue.

Now, let’s tap together. Starting at the side of the hand (karate chop) point, tap continuously while repeating after me:

“Even though I have this constricted breathing,
I deeply and completely accept myself.”
“Even though I have this constricted breathing,
I choose to breathe deeply.”
“Even though I have this constricted breathing,
I ask my body to feel safe breathing deeply.”

Now we’ll move from point to point, saying our reminder phrase while tapping about 5-7 times at each point:

Top of the head: “This constricted breathing”
Eyebrow: “This constricted breathing”
Side of the eye: “This constricted breathing”
Under the eye: “This constricted breathing”
Under the nose: “This constricted breathing”
Chin: “This constricted breathing”
Collarbone: “This constricted breathing”
Under the arm: “This constricted breathing”

Returning to the side of the hand (karate chop) point, tap continuously while repeating the following statements aloud:

“Even though I still have some of this constricted breathing,
I ask my body to remember how to breathe deeply.”
“Even though I still have some of this constricted breathing,
I ask my breathing muscles to cooperate and breathe deeply.”
“Even though I still have some of this constricted breathing,
I choose to find it surprisingly easy to relax, feel safe, and take deep breaths.”

Top of the head: “Remaining constricted breathing”
Eyebrow: “Remaining constricted breathing”
Side of the eye: “Remaining constricted breathing”
Under the eye: “Remaining constricted breathing”
Under the nose: “Remaining constricted breathing”
Chin: “Remaining constricted breathing”
Collarbone: “Remaining constricted breathing”
Under the arm: “Remaining constricted breathing”
Top of the head: “I choose to take relaxed, deep breaths.”

Now, take a nice deep breath and really sigh on the out breath….

Anxiety Constricted Breathing 3

On the same 0-10 scale, how deep a breath was that? Did the air seem to flow in and out more smoothly, with less effort? Did you feel more relaxed and less anxious or worried? If you are not at least an “8”, I encourage you to follow this procedure again (and again) as many times every day as feels right to you.

Sometimes, this EFT breathing exercise can bring up some of the deeper issues that you can use EFT to help release. If that happens, take it as a Good Thing, and use EFT right away or call a coach or therapist to help you. Our group coaching program is perfect for helping you apply EFT for such issues. Consider starting your circle membership right now (if you haven't already!).

Additional Tips:

  • If you are not in a place where you choose to go deeper, be sure to honor your body’s intelligence, as I describe answering the question, “What if I get really emotional at the ‘wrong’ time?
  • Massage therapy can be extremely helpful here, too. Massage can both release stored tension and re-educate muscles in what “relaxed” really means. Have your therapist focus on the breathing muscles of the neck, rib cage, and diaphragm as well as the shoulders, back, and abdomen. (This type of work requires both skill and sensitivity; be sure to choose a manual therapist who specializes in detailed work rather than relaxation Swedish or spa massage.)

People Are Talking…

  • Thanks so much for the breathing technique! I have been feeling very terrified and sad today, and the exercise really helped me move the energy! Love, Mary
  • This is amazing!! Thanks….my headache went away this afternoon after learning and concentrating on deep breaths….thanks…. Tom
  • I thought I wasn’t really stressed when I listened. I found myself yawning quite a bit and now I do feel more relaxed. Thanks! Michele
  • My goodness…. how my body has relaxed!! Thank you!!  :))

    • Wonderful, Debra! When we take the anxiety out of our breathing, our body gets a signal that it is okay NOW to rest and renew. I suggest doing this exercise and then relaxing/meditating/napping for 20 minutes. It’s self-care for a Thriving Life!

  • Jeanmaurie says:

    This felt good and my stomach liked it a lot.  🙂

  • Peaceful Girl says:

    Awesome! I felt relaxed and calm.  I have a milloin things I need to do and Just doing I realize I have only one thing to do and that’s just relax and be calm. Huge! Thank you.

    • So glad it helped you, too, Lee! This is one of our most popular tapping scripts… used by hundreds of thousands of visitors at this point. 

  • This has been amazing for me. I was so bad, that even when I was TRYING to breathe properly and deeply, I was unable to, as if I did not dare. Very strange…
    I did the exercise about a week ago, and have been breathing naturally since then. I am so grateful, it feels so good! It feels wonderful knowing if I ever have ‘stressed breathing’ again, I know what to do right away, right on this page!

    • “This has been amazing for me.” We’re so glad, Seberg! Sometimes the body just needs a “tap” in the right direction to return to balance. 

  • Carole_evans says:

    I have read the comments and my suffocating breathing feeling seems to happen all times of day..even at night.   I am a shallow breather because I am suppressing insecure and fearful thoughts which cloud my mind especially when alone. The inability to take a deep breath to compensate the suffocating feeling causes me great anxiety…and until this breath is finally achieved I feel so out of control and very anxious/frightened.  How can one overcome this and not feel afraid.

    • Carole, you might consider working 1-on-1 with a coach like Cathy or myself. Tapping on those specific feelings alongside a supportive person can start to change the chronic pattern.

      Do you feel those insecure feelings are the result of trauma in your past? If so, I’d recommend looking at the presentations in our trauma relief center. They would also give you an idea how Cathy and I work with these distressing energies. https://www.thrivingnow.com/trauma

      I’ll hold a Good Thought for you! Let us know if you’d like our help. -Rick

      • Carole_evans says:

        thank you for your advice.  Yes, the anxiety is from the past which resulted finally in a full blown panic attack out of the blue…was so frightened from the feelings experienced at the time.  The panic focused on the breathing restriction and became the fear of fear.  I have suffered this for 40 years…is there any hope for a complete cure.     please, how can you help me.

        • Carole, Did you look at the presentation in the trauma relief center yet? That is where you want to start, in understanding both what happened, why it feels stuck/frozen, and how we might go about freeing up that energy using inner tapping:


          Look at those and let me know?


    • Gina beaumont says:

      Carol, don’t be afraid. Everything you want is on the other side of fear (Jack Canfield). You can get better, but you have to work at it and be patient. It took time for you to get this way, it will take time to heal. It can be done. Keep trying the breathing, one day it will come, don’t give up. I was like you, but kept at it and still do, but am breathing much better. It feels great to take a deep breath in through your nose and out. When you breath out, you are ridding your body of negatives and when you breathe in, you are taking in clean (hopefully) fresh air.
      Don’t expect immediate results. You have to take the time for yourself and do this ! Dr Andrew Weil is good if you read. Stretching/yoga too is excellent. Hold a position and breath. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia which is possibly what you have. Did you have much trauma in your life, perhaps a sexual assault? Don’t worry, if you work at it, you will get better. Good Luck!

  • Evan_anderson says:

    Hi I tried the breathing and it worked somewhat but idk if I’m doing it 100% right..

  • cnynhiker says:

    This one always makes me more relaxed and breathing easier.

  • The is a huge red block covering the screen requesting my name, & email address so that I can receive your free EFT manual. This kind of marketing is annoying and actually puts me off wanting to work with you.

    • If you click the (X) in the corner, it goes away. Sorry you find it annoying. We try to let new visitors know it is there, since 80% of new visitors are needing/wanting an introduction to Tapping (and ours is free). Best wishes to you… –Rick

  • Michele ODonnell says:

    thank you. i have been recognizing my constricted breathing is a big problem. actually last year when they were prepping me for surgery the anasethlogist did some tapping with me to relax. it worked.

    • That’s great Michelle! How did this exercise work for you? Do you notice that it gets worse when you feel certain emotions?

      • Michele ODonnell says:

        yes. i hate my workplace and don’t want to be there. so there is where i feel it 5 days a week for 40 hours a week. ugh!!! and i want to learn to tap but have not idea what to say. i know the points to tap on. but i do i make up something to say? i have no idea.

        • A private session would be perfect to focus on that energy. https://www.thrivingnow.com/schedule — It’s really difficult when we’re trapped in a place we don’t want to be. Our primitive brain can feel like it needs to KEEP ringing the alarm bells and triggering the anxiety. That isn’t actually helpful. So we tap together to reach a more neutral and empowered place. I can record the session so you can listen and tap along again as well. Let me know! I’d be honored to help you shift this and make tapping a tool you can learn to help you in many different ways.

  • Thank you Rick
    Tapping with you almost always helps. Anxiety, breathlessness, back pain are my almost constant companions. After the round of tapping with you my breathing probably moved from 4 to 5….i felt light. Is this feeling light equals to feeling relaxed? i m really not sure what relax feels like. Also my experience included yawning and feeling thirsty, very thirsty.

    • Yawning is a sign your body is starting to switch into a more relaxed, lighter state. Being thirsty, too, since when we’re really anxious we don’t really pay attention to water the way our body would like. You’re doing great! I’d keep practicing and see what you notice over time!

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