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Relieving stress through breathing

Has anyone ever told you to “take a deep breath” when you were feeling overwhelmed or stressed? Or have you ever felt a sense of relief after just taking a deep breath?

Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. This is because when you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to your body. Those things that happen when you are stressed, such as increased heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure, all decrease as you breathe deeply to relax.

Opposite of that, improper breathing can contribute to anxiety, panic attacks, fatigue, and other physical and emotional disturbances.

Very Well Mind and Sheryl Ankrom, MS, LCPC recommend these 8 Deep Breathing Exercises to Reduce Anxiety.

Alternate-Nostril Breathing

  • Position your right hand by bending your pointer and middle fingers into your palm, leaving your thumb, ring finger, and pinky extended. This is known as Vishnu mudra in yoga.

  • Close your eyes or softly gaze downward.

  • Inhale and exhale to begin.

  • Close off your right nostril with your thumb.

  • Inhale through your left nostril.

  • Close off your left nostril with your ring finger.

  • Open and exhale through your right nostril.

  • Inhale through your right nostril.

  • Close off your right nostril with your thumb.

  • Open and exhale through your left nostril.

  • Inhale through your left nostril.

Do your best to work up to 10 rounds of this breathing pattern. If you begin to feel lightheaded, take a break. Release both nostrils and breathe normally.

Belly Breathing

  • Place one hand on your upper chest and the other hand on your belly, below the ribcage.

  • Allow your belly to relax, without forcing it inward by squeezing or clenching your muscles.

  • Breathe in slowly through your nose. The air should move into your nose and downward so that you feel your stomach rise with your other hand and fall inward (toward your spine).

  • Exhale slowly through slightly pursed lips. Take note of the hand on your chest, which should remain relatively still.

Box Breathing

  • Exhale to a count of four.

  • Hold your lungs empty for a four-count.

  • Inhale to a count of four.

  • Hold the air in your lungs for a count of four.

  • Exhale and begin the pattern anew.

4-7-8 Breathing

  • Place and keep the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue behind your upper front teeth for the duration of the exercise.

  • Completely exhale through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.

  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.

  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.

  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.

Lion’s Breath

The exercise is best performed in a comfortable, seated position, leaning forward slightly with your hands on your knees or the floor.

  • Spread your fingers as wide as possible.

  • Inhale through your nose.

  • Open your mouth wide, stick out your tongue, and stretch it down toward your chin.

  • Exhale forcefully, carrying the breath across the root of your tongue.

  • While exhaling, make a “ha” sound that comes from deep within your abdomen.

  • Breathe normally for a few moments.

  • Repeat lion’s breath up to seven times.

Mindful Breathing

Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on your breathing and bringing your attention to the present without allowing your mind to drift off to the past or future.

  • Choose a calming focus, including a sound ("om"), positive word ("peace"), or phrase ("breathe in calm, breath out tension") to repeat silently as you inhale or exhale.

  • Let go and relax. When you notice your mind has drifted, take a deep breath and gently return your attention to the present.

Pursed-Lip Breathing

  • Sit in a comfortable position, with your neck and shoulders relaxed.

  • Keeping your mouth closed, inhale slowly through your nostrils for two seconds.

  • Exhale through your mouth for four seconds, puckering your mouth as if giving a kiss.

  • Keep your breath slow and steady while breathing out.

Resonance Breathing

  • Lie down and close your eyes.

  • Gently breathe in through your nose, mouth closed, for a count of six seconds. Don't fill your lungs too full of air.

  • Exhale for six seconds, allowing your breath to leave your body slowly and gently without forcing it.

  • Continue for up to 10 minutes.

  • Take a few additional minutes to be still and focus on how your body feels.

Simple Breathing Exercise

You can perform this exercise as often as needed. It can be done standing up, sitting down, or lying down. If you find this exercise difficult or believe it's making you anxious or panicky, stop for now. Try it again in a day or so and build up the time gradually.

  • Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. Keep your shoulders relaxed. Your abdomen should expand, and your chest should rise very little.

  • Exhale slowly through your mouth. As you blow air out, purse your lips slightly, but keep your jaw relaxed. You may hear a soft “whooshing” sound as you exhale.

Repeat this breathing exercise. Do it for several minutes until you start to feel better.

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