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7 Breathing Exercises for Stress Relief

Being insanely busy at work and then coupled with personal life matters can lead to stress piling up in our bodies. There are times where we realize that we’re incredibly stressed but also, there are times when we tend to let it all pile up. Experiencing a huge amount of stress, or even chronic stress, isn’t good for our health. As most people say, stress is a silent killer. 

Chronic stress manifests in several ways such as an increased heart rate, fast breathing, high blood pressure, fatigue, headaches, and the like. A lot of people often grow accustomed to these symptoms that it even begins to feel normal when it actually isn’t. Getting rid of stress and its negative effects is easier said than done, but there are ways to reduce stress even just for a moment. 

One of the best and easiest stress management techniques that you can do is a breathing exercise. The breath is a powerful tool that can reduce our stress and make us feel less anxious, less fatigued, and better overall. Some simple breathing exercises can make a big difference, especially if they become a part of our daily routine. We’ve listed out some breathing exercises that you can do to relieve stress. Check them out!

What Is Stressed Breathing?

When a person is experiencing immense stress, their breathing pattern changes. Usually, a person would take small, shallow breaths using their shoulders rather than the diaphragm. Also called chest breathing, this type of breathing is usually the body’s response to stress or great exertion; however, it also disrupts the balance of gases. Shallow breathing increases the feeling of tension and anxiety, making the physical symptoms of stress worse. By controlling your breathing, you can relieve yourself of anxiety and quell any errant stress response.

How Breathing Exercises Reduce Stress?

Deep Breathing Benefits

Studies show that breathing exercises can improve cognitive function, encourage positive thought processes, and most importantly, reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety. In a study done by the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience and the Global Brain Health Institute, it was found that there is a neurological link between respiration and focus. Through the study, it was shown that those who incorporated these relaxation techniques in their day-to-day life affected the levels of noradrenaline in their brain. 

Noradrenaline is a natural chemical messenger that is released when a person is challenged, focused, or emotionally aroused. When a person is under stressful situations, too much noradrenaline is produced and when a person is sluggish, there is very little amount of the chemical produced. Those who practiced any kind of breathing exercise daily were found to produce the sweet spot of noradrenaline and showed an extraordinary ability to focus.

Aside from reducing stress, it’s shown that deep breaths also benefit a person by improving symptoms of depression and anxiety. As mentioned earlier, shallow breathing tends to be the response of the body to stress, and many people unintentionally do this. When we breathe shallowly, the body is kept in a cycle of stress, affecting everything from mental to physical health. Practicing controlled breaths for a few moments a day can make a person conscious of the unintentional chest breathing habit and feel relaxed instead.

Deep Breathing Techniques for Stress Management

According to a study done by Harvard Medical School, deep breathing encourages a full oxygen exchange in the body. This means that it trades incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide, slowing the heartbeat and stabilizing blood pressure, thereby reducing stress and helping a person relax. Try to incorporate the following relaxation techniques in your regular routine and notice how much better your body feels.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Also known as belly breathing, this exercise is the most efficient practice for deep relaxation. To incorporate this relaxation technique in your regular practice, start by sitting in a comfortable position or lie flat on the floor. You can also lie down on your bed or any other comfortable flat surface. Next, relax your shoulders as you put a hand on your chest and a hand on your stomach. 

Breathe in through your nose for about two seconds. If you experience air moving through your nostrils and into your abdominal muscles, making your stomach expand, then you’re doing it correctly. Make sure that your stomach is moving outward while your chest remains relatively still. With pursed lips, tighten your stomach muscles as you exhale slowly for about two seconds. When you exhale, your belly should lower. Repeat the steps several times for the best results. Breathe fully into your belly, allowing it to rise and fall with your breath.

Deep Breath Focus

This is a technique that can elicit a relaxation response from your body. It helps you concentrate on slow, deep breathing and aids you in disengaging from distracting thoughts and sensations. First, find a quiet place where you can lie down or sit comfortably. Take a normal breath, and then try a deep breath: breathe in slowly through your nose, letting your chest and lower belly to rise as you fill your lungs up. Let your abdomen expand fully.

Next, breathe out through your mouth slowly. Once you’ve done that a couple of times, close your eyes. Breathe deeply as you imagine the air is filled with a sense of peace and calm. Then, breathe out, imagining the air leaving your body along with your stress and tension. Now, use a focus word or phrase with your breath. You can say in your mind, “I breathe in peace and calm,” when you inhale, and you can say “I breathe out stress and tension,” when you exhale. Your word or phrase can be anything that will make you relax. Continue for 10 to 20 minutes.

Cleansing Deep Breaths

You can release the tension accumulated in your shoulders, back, and more by doing a couple of big, cleansing breaths. Breathe in deeply through your nose and take in as much air as you comfortably can. Next, release it, thoroughly, focusing on emptying your lungs. Many people tend to hold in air in the lungs after an exhale, so emptying the lungs on a deep exhale can aid you in getting more fresh oxygen into them. Repeat this for a couple of breaths and release any tension that you feel.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Also called Nadi Shodhana, this breath control exercise has been practiced for thousands of years as a form of meditative breathing. To do this, sit straight in a comfortable chair. When you inhale, place your thumb over your right nostril and only breathe through your left. On the exhale, switch by placing your ring finger or index finger over the left nostril, and breathe out through the right. You can breathe at any pace that is comfortable for you. Repeat this for a few minutes, and then slowly lower your hand to breathe through both nostrils.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

This technique can help you relax physically and mentally by tensing a muscle group as you breathe in, and then releasing as you breathe out. To do progressive muscle relaxation, lie on your back comfortably on the floor and take a few deep breaths to relax. Next, tense the muscles of your feet as you take a deep breath in, and then release the tension as you breathe out. Breathe in once more, this time tensing your calf muscles, and then releasing the tension in your calves as you breathe out. Work your way up, tensing each muscle group such as the legs, belly, chest, fingers, arms, shoulders, neck, and face.

Morning Breathing

This is an exercise that you can do first thing when getting up in the morning. It can help relieve muscle stiffness and clear clogged passages. Start from a standing position and then bend forward from the waist with your knees slightly bent, letting your arms dangle close to the floor. Inhale slowly and deeply as you return to a standing position, rolling up slowly, lifting your head last. Hold your breath for a few seconds, and then exhale slowly as you return to the original position, bent forward from the waist. Repeat as necessary.

Roll Breathing

Developing the full use of your lungs and focusing on the rhythm of your breathing is the aim of this exercise. It can be done in any position, but it is best to lie on your back with your knees bent. Then, put a hand on your belly and a hand on your chest. Pay attention to how your hands move as you breathe in and out. Next, do a couple of deep breaths, always inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth.

When you have filled and emptied your lungs, inhale into your belly, and then continue inhaling into your upper chest. Breathe slowly and regularly. As you do so, you will notice the hand on your stomach will rise while the hand placed on your chest will fall a bit as your belly falls. Exhale in a slow manner through your mouth, making a quiet, whooshing sound, feeling the tension leaving you as you become more relaxed. Practice this technique for 3 to 5 minutes. Notice that the movement of your belly and chest, the rise and fall imitating the motion of rolling waves. 

You might feel dizzy the first few times you do roll breathing, so practice with caution. If you feel lightheaded, slow your breathing and get up slowly. Always take notice of how you feel when practicing this.

Deep, conscious breathing can be your anchor that allows you to stay in the present moment, relieve your tension, relax your muscles, and clear your mind. The best part about these exercises is that you don’t need any equipment; all you need is yourself and a place that you are comfortable in, like your bed, on the floor, or your favorite chair. Try doing any of these exercises at the same time, once or twice a day to build up your routine. Do remember that if you feel any discomfort at some point, seek a doctor who can provide medical advice to ensure your well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is the 4 7 8 deep breathing technique?

This technique uses a certain count and ratio to relax the autonomic nervous system. Aside from reducing anxiety and stress, it can also aid in improving cardiovascular function, as well as helping you sleep better. Check out our article to know more about the benefits of 4 7 8 technique and how you can do it.

Tricia Montano

Tricia founded Pain Free Working in 2019 due to suffering from degenerative disc disease in her L5-S1 from working an office job for the past 18 years. She and her team strive on finding and reviewing the best office equipment to help fellow pain sufferers find relief and to enable people like her to do their jobs comfortably.