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  • Writer's pictureJosh Hilton

Breathe to win.

Updated: Jun 26




Breathing Techniques to Manage Anxiety in Sports

In the high-pressure world of sports, anxiety can be a significant hurdle for athletes. Effective management of anxiety is crucial for maintaining peak performance and overall well-being. One of the most accessible and effective ways to manage anxiety is through controlled breathing techniques. This blog post will explore how these techniques can help athletes stay calm, focused, and perform at their best.

Why Breathing Techniques Work

Breathing techniques are powerful tools for managing anxiety because they directly influence the autonomic nervous system, which controls the body's stress response. By practicing controlled breathing, athletes can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation and reducing the physical symptoms of anxiety such as increased heart rate, muscle tension, and rapid breathing.

Key Breathing Techniques for Athletes

1. Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing, involves deep breaths that fully engage the diaphragm. This technique helps slow the heartbeat and stabilize blood pressure, creating a calming effect.

How to Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing:

  • Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.

  • Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.

  • Inhale deeply through your nose, allowing your abdomen to rise while keeping your chest still.

  • Exhale slowly through your mouth, letting your abdomen fall.

  • Repeat for 5-10 minutes, focusing on the rise and fall of your abdomen.

2. Box Breathing

Box breathing, also known as square breathing, is a technique that involves inhaling, holding the breath, exhaling, and holding again in equal counts. This method can enhance focus and calmness, making it particularly useful in high-stress situations.

How to Practice Box Breathing:

  • Sit comfortably with your back straight.

  • Inhale deeply through your nose for a count of 4.

  • Hold your breath for a count of 4.

  • Exhale slowly through your mouth for a count of 4.

  • Hold your breath again for a count of 4.

  • Repeat the cycle for several minutes.

3. 4-7-8 Breathing

The 4-7-8 breathing technique is designed to reduce stress and promote relaxation by elongating the exhale, which helps slow the heart rate.

How to Practice 4-7-8 Breathing:

  • Sit or lie down comfortably.

  • Inhale quietly through your nose for a count of 4.

  • Hold your breath for a count of 7.

  • Exhale completely through your mouth for a count of 8.

  • Repeat the cycle for 4 breaths, gradually increasing as you become more comfortable.

Conclusion

Incorporating breathing techniques into an athlete's routine can significantly improve their ability to manage anxiety, maintain focus, and perform at their best. Simple yet powerful, these techniques offer a natural way to enhance mental and physical well-being in sports.

For more insights on managing anxiety in sports and other mental health strategies, visit us at Baseline.


Sources:

  1. Jerath, R., Edry, J. W., Barnes, V. A., & Jerath, V. (2006). "Physiology of long pranayamic breathing: Neural respiratory elements may provide a mechanism that explains how slow deep breathing shifts the autonomic nervous system." Medical Hypotheses, 67(3), 566-571.

  2. Paul, M., & Garg, K. (2012). "The effect of deep breathing on the performance of the timed up-and-go test in older adults." Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 24(1), 49-51.

  3. Khng, K. H. (2017). "A better state-of-mind: Deep breathing reduces state anxiety and enhances test performance through regulating test cognitions in children." Cognition and Emotion, 31(7), 1502-1510.

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