Breathing Exercises for Stress

By Steven Galvin - Last update

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Breathing Exercises for Stress: We’ve seen it in every film and TV series when a character is in shock or under pressure that someone tells them to “breathe deeply” in an effort to calm them down and help them recover. Yes, it’s a cliche but it’s a cliche that’s based on biological fact. When we feel stress, our breathing rate quickens and our brain receives warning signals. This has been explained as a throwback to our primitive selves and the trigger of the fight-or-flight response.

The fight-or-flight response is a physiological reaction to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival. According to the theory, the response is triggered by the release of hormones that prepare your body to either stay and take on the threat or get out of dodge and run away to safety. 

Another term for it is ‘the acute stress response’ and this is a clearer definition that explains how it can be a common reaction to stressful situations that, although not life-threatening, causes anxiety and stress.

One way of dealing with this onslaught of bad energy is to heed the cliched advice and focus on our breathing. This becomes an efficient technique for stress, anxiety and panic and is easy to do, takes just a few minutes and can be done anywhere.

Controlling your breath and slowing it down works to send signals to your brain that you are safe from potential harm and if done effectively can replace a sense of stress or panic with a sense of calm and ease.

Studies have shown that the right kind of breathing can reduce our feelings of anxiety. Knowing this, we can integrate breathing exercises into our everyday life in order to contribute to a greater sense of general wellbeing, and help us feel good about ourselves and the world around us and encourage us to function well in everyday life.  

Below we’ll take a look at a few exercises and techniques that you can try and see which works best for you.

1-Minute Breathing 

This is as simple as it reads – take a minute and count 6 breaths in total. For each one, breathe deeply in through your nose – about 3 seconds – and hold the breath in for 4 seconds and then breath out for about 3 seconds. Repeat 5 more times. Even for this minute, doing this exercise will cause your heart to slow down encouraging your brain to relax and in turn encourage self positive energy.

Box Breathing 

Box breathing, also known as ‘square breathing’, involves taking slow, deep breaths and focusing on 4 seconds for each part of the breath. Breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds, then hold for four more. This type of breathing will lower your stress levels and calm your body’s electrical wiring. This particular method has been said to heighten performance and improve concentration as well as being an effective stress reliever. Maybe this is why the Navy Seals apparently use this method! 

Pilates Breathing

Pilates breathing also known as “ribcage breathing” or three-dimensional breathing (breathing into the back and side of the ribcage). The breath is taken in through the nose, to the back and side of the ribcage and exhaled through pursed lips. This breathing activates the lymphatic system which helps eliminate waste products, toxins, cancer cells, and other substances and so boosts our immunity and contributes to overall sense of wellness. The breathing-in encourages a connection with the body and an awareness of the core that can make you feel more relaxed.

Yoga Breathing

Yoga Breathing also known as ‘belly breathing’ directly addresses the fight-or-flight mode. It promotes the necessary relaxation response and allows muscles to lengthen, stretch and relax as it oxygenates the blood. To do this, the breath is taken in through the nose and let the air push out your belly and then you exhale through the nose as the belly contracts. 

Nadi Shodhan

Nadi Shodhan, also known as ‘alternate-nostril breathing’, is great for boosting energy. Put your right thumb on to your right nostril and block the passageway so as air cannot pass. Now breathe out through your left nostril for 4 seconds. Breathe in through your left nostril again for four seconds. Next, put the ring finger and little finger of your right hand on to your left nostril and block the passageway so as air cannot pass. Release your right thumb and breathe out through your right nostril for four seconds. At the end of the breath, keep your fingers where they are and breathe in through the right nostril for four. Do this exercise in cycles and let the positive energy flow through you.




Steven Galvin

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