Three Great Breathing Exercises for Stress Relief

Have you ever noticed how your breath changes when you’re scared or anxious versus when you’re calm? We naturally take quick, shallow breaths when we’re stressed. When we’re relaxed, our breathing is long and slow instead. Just by mimicking those patterns, you can actually trigger a response of the nervous system, sending you into a state of panic or zen. This is good news; it means that stress relief might be just a breath away.
Stress Relief
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How Breathing Helps with Stress Relief

The human nervous system has two modes: sympathetic (the stress response) and parasympathetic (the relaxation response). Deep, intentional breathing triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, which is all about the chill. Plus, intentional breathing gives us something to focus on other than whatever negative thoughts are racing through our heads. Both are key to relieving stress, not to mention expanding our attention span and helping us to better manage pain.

Three Stress-Reducing Breathing Techniques to Help You Find Your Calm

Diaphragmatic Breathing

The diaphragm is a muscle found just below the lungs. By intentionally engaging it, you can increase the depth and quality of your breaths. The Cleveland Clinic suggests the following for diaphragmatic breathing:
  1. Lie flat on your back with your knees bent or sit up straight in a comfortable position. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
  2. Breathe in from your nose. Allow your stomach to expand with the breath, while your chest remains still.
  3. Exhale through your mouth, pushing the air out with your stomach.
Continue breathing in this way for 5-10 minutes, and repeat the practice up to four times every day.


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Alternate Nostril Breathing

Called Nadi Shodhan Pranayama in Sanskrit, alternate nostril breathing is an ancient practice said to center the mind and improve the flow of energy. The Art of Living offers this guidance for those getting started:
  1. Sit upright in a relaxed position, releasing tension from the body and face.
  2. With your right hand, gently place the tip of your pointer and middle fingers in the center of your forehead, letting your thumb and ring finger rest on either side of your nose.
  3. Take a deep breath. Exhale through the left nostril, closing your right nostril with your thumb. Release the thumb and inhale. Exhale through the right nostril, closing the left with your ring finger.
  4. Keeping the right nostril closed, inhale again. Release the thumb, now closing the left nostril with your ring finger, and exhale. Inhale, then switch nostrils again to exhale.
Make each inhale and exhale last for four counts before you release and repeat the steps 5-9 times.


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Counted Breathing

Counted breathing is a method for intentional breath that can be done anywhere (even, quite possibly, in the middle of a high-stakes meeting with your boss). While there are several approaches, we like the simplicity of the 4-7-8 method from Dr. Andrew Weil:
  1. Exhale completely (and audibly if you’re able).
  2. Inhale for a count of four.
  3. Count to seven while holding the breath.
  4. Exhale for eight counts.
Each cycle counts as a breath. Repeat up to four times for four full breaths.


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Practicing Intentional Breathing for Stress Relief

Learning to use the breath well takes time. After all, how many of us actually pay attention to our breathing from minute to minute? Like anything, the more you do it, the easier it gets.

By practicing intentional breathing daily, these techniques will soon be second nature and ready for when you need them the most.

For more content like this, check out all of Tattooed Women’s posts tagged with Mental Health!