Your breath is a very simple, yet extremely powerful tool to help ease stress and make you feel less anxious. Some simple breathing exercises can make a big difference if you make them part of your regular routine.
When we’re under stress, our breathing and heart rate gets faster - as part of the natural ‘fight or flight’ response. In stressful situations, we might need to run away or defend ourselves, so the brain activates our system to send more oxygen to the muscles. So this is when breathing techniques can be super handy. By consciously slowing our breathing we can reverse the process, and stop the vicious circle. Here are some proven breathing exercises to help ease your stress and anxiety:
Belly breathing (also known as deep breathing) is a simple technique to get you breathing more deeply and slowly.
- Place one hand on your belly, and the other hand on the top of your chest
- Inhale slowly through your nose, focusing on pushing your stomach out in a way that moves the lower hand
- When you’ve taken in as much air as you can without making the upper hand move, breathe out slowly through your mouth – again focusing on gently pushing the air out using your stomach, and making that lower hand move
Square breathing combines the physical exercise with visualisation, and can be really effective.
- Sit tall in a chair with both feet on the floor
- Picture a square hovering in front of you – you could even use a window or a TV
- Focus on the top left-hand corner. Inhale for a count of four, imagining your breath travelling along the top side of the square to the right.
- Hold for four, letting your gaze continue down the right-hand side of the square
- Exhale for four, ‘travelling’ along the bottom side, then hold again for four, bringing your gaze up to the top left again and completing the square
The Quieting Response
The quieting response method combines deep breathing with visualization to help reduce stress and anxiety. First, you need to relax all the muscles in your face and shoulders and imagine having holes in the soles of your feet.
- Take a deep breath, visualising the breath as hot air (some people imagine it as a colourful or sparkly mist) entering the body through the holes in the soles of your feet
- Imagine the hot air flowing up your legs, through your stomach, and then filling the lungs
- Relax each muscle as the hot air passes it
- Breathe out slowly, imagining the air passing from the lungs back into your stomach, then the legs, before leaving your body through the holes in the soles of your feet
- Repeat until you feel calm
The 4-7-8 breathing technique is a quick and simple way for a person to relax anywhere. To get started, sit down with your back straight and the tip of your tongue on the back of your upper front teeth.
- Breathe out through your mouth, making a whooshing sound
- Close your mouth and count to 4 while breathing in through your nose
- Count to 7 while holding your breath
- Count to 8 while breathing out through your mouth, making a whooshing sound
- Inhale, then repeat three times