How To Reduce Stress by Deep Breathing

Easy Instructions to Get You Breathing Deep for Stress Relief Today

A woman having a break taking deep breaths to reduce stress
Simple instructions on how to use deep breathing to reduce stress in your life starting today. Datacraft Co Ltd/Getty Images

Deep Breathing Exercise for Stress

You may have heard that deep breathing exercises can relieve stress. With all of the "miracle cures" and "hype" in magazines and online, is this really true?

Unlike some stress relieving techniques, solid research tells us that breathing techniques are not only very effective in reducing stress in our lives, but remarkable easy to learn and begin even today.

How to "Breathe" Properly

So you've heard that deep breathing is an important coping skill.

But do you really have to "learn" how to breathe? It may sound silly, but many people do not breathe properly. Natural breathing involves your diaphragm, a large muscle in your abdomen. When you breathe in, your belly should expand. When you breathe out, your belly should fall. Over time, people forget how to breathe this way and instead use their chest and shoulders. This causes short and shallow breaths, which can increase stress and anxiety.

Fortunately, it is not too late to "re-learn" how to breathe and help protect yourself from stress. Practice the simple exercise below to improve your breathing.

Deep Breathing Exercise Instructions

Difficulty: Easy

Time Required: 10 minutes

Here's How:

  1. Find a comfortable position either lying on your back or sitting. If you are sitting down, make sure that you keep your back straight and release the tension in your shoulders. Let them drop.

  2. Close your eyes. Alternatively you can keep your eyes open (and eventually you likely will) but closing your eyes helps you to focus on the mechanics of breathing rather than outside stimuli.

  1. Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.

  2. Take a few breaths as you normally would. Does your belly rise and fall with every breath in (inhalation) and every breath out (exhalation)? If you can answer "yes," that is good. This is the natural way of breathing. If your belly stays still but your chest rises and falls with every breath, practice breathing by only allowing your belly to rise and fall when you breathe in and out.

  1. Continue to take deep breaths, concentrating on only moving your belly.

  2. Continue as long as you would like!

Tips:

  1. It can take some time to re-learn how to breathe. The more you practice, the easier it becomes. Take some time each day to practice this exercise. You can do it anywhere.

  2. Try to practice this exercise at a time when you are already relaxed. This will make it easier to take deeper breaths.

  3. If you are having trouble taking deep breaths, try breathing in through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Also, slowly count to five in your head as you breathe in and out.

  4. In time and with practice you will get an idea about how long you need to practice deep breathing exercises to reduce stress. Early on it may be helpful to set a particular time limit, for example, three minutes if you're pressed for time. Keep in mind that it is usually more effective to practice several shorter periods of deep breathing rather than single long episodes of deep breathing. Practicing more often also helps you incorporate deep breathing as a habit into your lifestyle.

    Next:: Once you become comfortable practicing deep breathing, you can add in other forms of stress relief in a way that works for you.

    Benefits of Deep Breathing

    There are many benefits of breathing exercises which have been documented in studies including reversing the stress response once it occurs, helping you to be less reactive in stressful situations, and aiding in physical processes such as sleep, pain control, and even digestion.

    Adopting a Stress Management Lifestyle

    Deep breathing is but one method of reducing or at least coping with stress in your life, but there are many stress management techniques which may help you live with more joy and less worry every day. Using a combination of these techniques is ideal, as some methods are more conducive than others to particular situations. Even better, make a stress management lifestyle a family affair. Try some of these stress relieving practices that parents can do with their children.

    Sources:

    Kim, S., Schneider, S., Kravitz, L., Mermier, C., and M. Burge. Mind-Body Practices for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Journal of Investigational Medicine. 2013. 61(5):827-34.

    Szabo, A., and A. Kocsis. Psychological Effects of Deep-Breathing: The Impact of Expectancy-Priming. Psychological Health and Medicine. 2016 May 26. (Epub ahead of print).

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