Breathing Exercises To Reduce Stress

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Stress is something that bothers lots of us at different times and occasionally at times when it is inconvenient. There are lots of different ways to help reduce stress but some require a period of time or a certain place or equipment. When we are at work it is hard to practice self-care, but using breathing techniques and exercises are an easy way to start to reduce stress. It doesn’t require any equipment and can be done at your desk. Different types of breathing exercises can help, and here we discuss a few of them.

How Does It Work?

Breathing exercises work by slowing your heart rate, reducing your blood pressure and help to release any tension by increasing oxygen. When we are in a period of stress and our body is reacting to it, our heartbeat will increase and our breathing pattern will change to fast and shallow breaths. Concentrating on your breathing in a stressful situation brings you into the present in a state of mindfulness. These techniques are proven strategies to help relieve anxiety and stress.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Under our lungs, we have a dome-shaped muscle called the diaphragm and is an important muscle used for breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing is also known as belly breathing and is a conscious breathing technique that engages the diaphragm. Before you begin using this technique it is important to take a moment to notice your current breathing before you start to change it. 

  1. 1 Get yourself into a comfortable position (sitting, lying or standing)
  2. In your comfortable position, place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly
  3. Breathe in through your nose and feel the breath flow deep down into your abdomen
  4. Notice your belly expand, but try to keep the hand on your chest as still as you can
  5. Breathe out through your mouth having pursed lips and ensure it is slow and steady.
  6. Repeat the steps concentrating on your timing and remember to keep your breaths slower and deeper than normal.
  7. Continue for 3 to 5 minutes, or until you feel calmer.

Counted Breathing

This is a good technique to help you pace your breathing and to ensure that it is slower and deeper than your usual breathing pattern. It is a good idea to get used to diaphragmatic breathing first and be comfortable with this technique first before adding counting patterns. These patterns can help to further focus the mind and remove your feelings of stress.

– 3-4 breathing = count to 3 as you inhale and count to 4 on every exhale. This will ensure that your in-breath is less than your out-breath. This is a good technique if your mind is distracting you from sleep.

– 5-8 breathing = the placement of your tongue needs to be on the roof of your mouth, behind your teeth and breathe in through your nose and count down from 5. As you exhale through your mouth, count to 8 and this will help you to fully empty your lungs and relax.

– 5-5 breathing = a good strategy to use when you are feeling immediately panicked or want to calm your nerves. Breathe in for 5 and out for 5, but gradually increase the time between each count until each gap is approximately 1 second.

– 4-1-7 breathing = before trying this technique, be comfortable and confident with 5-5 breathing. This strategy adds a held breath to help strengthen your breathing muscles and the long out-breath is effective to combat stress and anxiety. Breathe in for 4, hold for 1 and then out for 7.

Visualisation Breathing

These techniques use your mind and visualise an image or idea in your head to focus your breathing.

– Inflating the balloon = When you are in a comfortable position, breathe in and imagine your tummy is inflating like a balloon and as you breathe out, imagine the balloon deflating as your abdomen goes down. You could imagine the balloon is your favourite colour or you are blowing into a balloon that with each exhale is taking you higher into the sky. This visualisation helps you to breathe deeply from your diaphragm rather than taking shallow breaths.

– Releasing your stress = Ensure you are comfortable and start diaphragmatic breathing. Imagine that as you inhale all the stress, anxiety and tension in your body is moving up to your chest. Then, as you breathe out, imagine all those feelings leaving your body as you breathe out and disappearing in front of you.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

This technique is a meditative breathing technique and has been used and practised for thousands of years. When inhaling, place your finger over one nostril and breathe through the other. On the exhale, swap nostrils. This is a technique you can do at your own pace or using one of the counted breathing exercises above and you can repeat it for up to 5 minutes.

More Resources To Deal With Stress


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