5 Breathing Exercises for Stress
Life is frequently stressful and especially so with several major changes happening all at once. Our baby Bee is sleeping in her own room after eleven months of sharing a room with us. She's healthy and strong but I worry about her! I'm adjusting to not having her within reach throughout the night.
We are figuring out our comfort levels with socializing and being out in public places as the pandemic seems to be winding down. I'm also experiencing changes and new perspectives in relationships which has been healthy, but not easy.
In an effort to proactively manage stressors I've identified some breathing exercises that I enjoy and I've matched them to situations in which I find them especially helpful. I hope they will help you too.
Each of these techniques is useful for reducing impulsive reactions while increasing intentional responses. They each provide the mental space to observe what is uncomfortable or stressful so that I can pay attention to it and decide how I want to respond.
1. A Simple Deep Breath
Exactly as it sounds, pausing for a deep breath just slows things down and allows me to gather my thoughts a bit more effectively. I try to stop what I'm doing and take one deep breath once I've realized that I'm feeling overwhelmed.
After that, I decide what to do about it. Sometimes that first deep breath leads to sitting down for a longer breathing exercise. Sometimes it holds me over until I can take a significant break or do a restorative activity.
2. Belly Breathing | Hands to belly and chest
When I notice that stress or anxiety is restricting my breathing or causing tension in my body I try this exercise for a few minutes.
Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly
Inhale slowly through your nose allowing your belly to expand with air
Exhale slowly through your mouth
Notice your belly expanding and contracting as your chest remains almost still
Continue with slow, gentle breaths until you feel calm
3. Box Breathing | Count to 4
When things are feeling out of control it helps me to focus on this technique because it feels easy and restores a healthy sense of control.
Exhale for a count of 4
Hold your breath for a count of 4
Inhale for a count of 4
Hold your breath for a count of 4
4. Coherent Breathing | Extend each breath
When I feel emotionally restricted, like maybe I need to cry but the tears won't come, or that I'm struggling to identify what I even feel, this exercise helps me to open up.
Sit comfortably or lie down
Slowly and gently inhale through your nose aiming for 6 seconds
Without forcing anything, exhale aiming for 6 seconds and notice breath leaving your body
If your breath was too restricted to reach 6 seconds, keep aiming to extend breaths as much as you can up to 6 seconds for each inhale and exhale
Continue for several minutes noticing how each gentle breath feels
5. Mindful Breathing | Focus on the present
When my thoughts are racing in anticipation of future tasks and events, or I'm struggling to stop dwelling on something that already happened, this exercise helps me to return to the present moment and what I can control.
Draw a long inhale
Exhale releasing any tension in your body
Close your eyes and take two more deep breaths
Notice any physical sensations (your hands on your legs, your legs on the seat, your feet on the floor)
Focus on the word "inhale" as you inhale and on the word "exhale" as you exhale for several complete breaths
Return your focus to physical sensations
Breathe normally and open your eyes
What techniques do you use to manage stress? Do you have a favorite breathing technique that's not included here?