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When you’re feeling breathless or anxious, there are breathing techniques to help you feel more in control and more comfortable.

Breathing control

Breathing control is useful when you’re short of breath or feeling anxious or panicked. It helps you make the best use of your diaphragm, your main breathing muscle.

Your diaphragm contracts when you breathe, so pulling the lungs down, stretching and expanding them. It relaxes back – into a dome position – when you breathe out, reducing the amount of air in your lungs.

I had to practise my new breathing technique, but it has really helped me to mange my breathlessness and feel more in control.

How to practise

The best time to practise is when you are relaxed and not out of breath, and can sit comfortably:

  1. Get into a comfortable position, with your arms supported and your shoulders relaxed. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Close your eyes to help you relax and focus on your breathing.
  2. Slowly breathe in through your nose, with your mouth closed. If you’re relaxed, the air will reach low in your lungs. Your abdomen will move out against your hand.
  3. Observe your breathing. If your breathing is controlled, the hand on your chest will hardly move. Breathe out through your mouth. Your abdomen will fall gently. Imagine all the tension in your body leaving as you let the air out. Use as little effort as possible and make your breaths slow, relaxed and smooth.
  4. With every breath out, try to feel more relaxed and calm. Gradually try to breathe more slowly When fully in control of your breathing, your out-breath should be longer than your in-breath. There should be a natural pause at the end of your out breath.

Feeling out of control

For those times when you are too breathless or anxious to manage breathing control, simply:

  • Gently fan yourself
  • Lean forward
  • Focus on longer out-breaths

Pursed-lips breathing

Use pursed-lips breathing to control your breathing:

  1. Breathe in gently through your nose, then purse your lips as though you’re going to blow out a candle.
  2. Blow out with your lips in this pursed position. Blow out only for as long as is comfortable – don’t force your lungs to empty any more than feels natural.

Blow-as-you-go

Blow-as-you-go helps make tasks and activities easier – especially those that make you breathless. You can use it with pursed-lips breathing.

Breathe in before you do the part of the task that involves making an effort. Then breathe out while you’re making the effort.

For example, when standing up, breathe in before you stand up, and then blow out as you stand up. Try using pursed lips as you blow out.

Paced breathing

Paced breathing is useful when you are active, for example, walking or climbing stairs. You pace your steps to your breathing. You can use it at the same time as pursed-lips breathing and blow-as-you-go. Count to yourself as you walk or move.

For example, breathe in for one step and then take either one or two steps as you breathe out. Take more steps as you breathe in or as you breathe out, if that feels better for you. Try different combinations to find what works best.

Start singing!

Some patients have found singing to be beneficial, although it doesn’t suit everyone. A number of support groups have invited singing coaches to their sessions and found this very useful.

You can also talk to your medical team about finding a pulmonary rehabilitation course – a programme of exercise and advice for people with lung conditions. Your pulmonary rehab course will include advice with managing your breathing to help with daily activities.

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