Health & Wellness

Top 4 Breathing Exercises to Relieve Stress

Take a deep breath. It’s something we say to ourselves and others as encouragement to calm down. And for good reason. I tell my patients: Even one deep breath can make a difference and give you pause in a moment of anxiety or stress. Done in specific patterns, deep breathing techniques can be extremely beneficial, physically and mentally. As a bonus, deep breathing requires no equipment, and you can do breathing exercises to relieve stress anytime, anywhere.

How Does Breathing Calm You Down?

When you’re stressed, you breathe in a fight-or-flightpattern, where your breaths are rapid and shallow. (This is a survival tactic designed to help you run from a threat, such as a bear in the woods.) When you feel relaxed, on the other hand, you breathe deeply and slowly. So, by practicing calming breathing exercises on purpose, you can mimic that relaxation and make yourself feel relaxed.

In fact, deep breathing exercises for anxiety and stress, such as abdominal breathing, 4-7-8 breathing, and other breathing techniques, are some of the best ways to instantly calm your body and mind. [1] You can practice breathing exercises to fall asleep, to become more mindful, and to calm yourself when unexpected stress hits. You can also use breathing exercises for panic attacks, if you are prone.  Here are four breathing exercises to relieve stress.

 

4 Breathing Exercises to Relieve Stress

Each of these techniques has been shown to relax the body and mind. You can use these breathing exercises for panic attacks, stress, anxiety, and to help you fall asleep.

1. The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique

Developed by alternative medicine guru Dr. Andrew Weil, the 4-7-8 breathing technique is based on a yoga breathing exercise called pranayama.

To do it:

  • Start seated, with your back straight. Put the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, just behind your top front teeth, and keep it there through the entire breathing exercise.
  • Exhale completely, through your mouth. Make a whoosh sound as you breathe out.
  • Close your mouth and breathe in through your nose for a count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale for a count of eight. Make sure you exhale completely, through your mouth, making a whoosh sound. That cycle counts as one breath.
  • Inhale again and complete the cycle three times for a total of four breaths. [2]

2. Alternate nostril breathing

Another yoga breathing exercise, alternate nostril breathing is a good breathing exercise to reduce stress and anxiety. It’s also been shown to produce health benefits in the cardiovascular system, nervous system, and lungs. [3] To practice alternate nostril breathing:

  • Sit comfortably, legs crossed.
  • Put your left hand on your left knee.
  • As you exhale completely, use your right thumb to close your right nostril.
  • Inhale through your left nostril, then close your left nostril with your right ring finger.
  • Let go of your right nostril to open it, then exhale through that side.
  • Inhale through the right nostril, then close it.
  • Open the left nostril, then exhale through that side.
  • You’ve completed one cycle.
  • Repeat for up to five minutes, always ending with an exhale on the left side. [4]

3. Diaphragmatic breathing

Also called belly breathing, diaphragmatic breathing helps strengthen the diaphragm, a muscle in your chest that helps you breathe. Because it slows your breathing rate, diaphragmatic breathing is also a useful breathing exercise to reduce stress. You can perform diaphragmatic breathing, seated or lying down.

To perform it while lying down:

  • Lie on your back on a flat surface with your knees bent. Put one hand on your chest and the other just below your ribcage so you can feel your diaphragm as you breathe.
  • Breathe in through your nose, slowly, so that your belly moves out and you can feel it with your hand. Keep your chest as still as possible.
  • As you exhale through pursed lips, tighten your stomach muscles and let them fall downward. Continue to keep your upper chest still.

To perform belly breathingwhile sitting:

  • Sit in a chair with your knees bent and your head, neck and shoulders relaxed.
  • Put one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your ribs so you can pay attention to your diaphragm as you breathe.
  • Breathe in through your nose, slowly, so that your belly moves out and you can feel it with your hand. Keep your chest as still as possible.
  • As you exhale through pursed lips, tighten your stomach muscles and let them fall downward. Continue to keep your upper chest still.

Practice belly breathing for five to 10 minutes, three to four times a day as a breathing exercise to reduce stress. [5]

4. Bhramari pranayama

A yoga breathing exercise to reduce stress and induce sleep, bhramari pranayama has been shown to decrease your breathing and heart rate, helping you feel relaxed.

To perform bhramari pranayama:

  • Close your eyes and breathe deeply, inhaling and exhaling.
  • Use your hands to cover your ears.
  • Place one index finger above each of your eyebrows, and place the rest of your fingers over your eyes.
  • Using your fingertips, put light pressure on the sides of your nose and focus on your brow area.
  • With a closed mouth, breathe out slowly through your nose while humming and making the “om” sound.
  • Repeat the entire process five times. [6]

 

Breathing exercises to relieve stress demonstrate the strength of the mind-body connection, and it’s empowering to know that something as simple as your breathing technique can make such a difference in how you feel. I recommend you practice breathing techniques regularly to boost your physical and mental health.

 

Key Takeaways

  • Deep breathing is one of the fastest, most effective ways to calm yourself, physically and mentally.
  • There are breathing exercises to relieve stress, combat anxiety, and help you fall asleep.
  • It’s easy to learn to practice breathing. You can do them anytime, anywhere.
  • Breathing techniques also have physical benefits, such as lowering heart rate and blood pressure.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.