Feeling stressed out, anxious, or overwhelmed by life? You’re not alone. With increasingly busy modern lifestyles, many of us deal with high levels of chronic stress. This can take a toll both mentally and physically. While stress may be unavoidable at times, there are effective ways to counteract and manage it. One technique that has been used for thousands of years is deep breathing. Let’s explore how purposeful, diaphragmatic breathing can help relax your mind, body, and emotions to combat stress and anxiety.
How Deep Breathing Helps
Deep breathing acts as a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. It triggers your body’s relaxation response, switching from the fight-or-flight adrenaline of stress to a more calm state. As you inhale, air filling your lungs sends messages to your brain to calm down. Controlled exhales signal your brain that there is no danger present. Breathing deeply also increases blood flow which delivers more oxygen to cells, reducing tension. The rhythmic nature provides something meditative for your mind to focus on in the present moment rather than worrying.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Technique
To reap these calming benefits, proper deep breathing technique is important. Shallow chest breathing won’t cut it. You need diaphragmatic breathing that uses the full capacity of your lungs. Follow these steps:
- Sit or lay in a comfortable position. Close your eyes if it helps you focus internally.
- Place one hand on your chest and one on your stomach.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. Feel your stomach press into your hand as the diaphragm muscle expands your lungs.
- Exhale slowly out through pursed lips, pressing out as much air as you can while still being relaxed.
- Repeat for at least 5-10 cycles of breath. Focus on making inhales and exhales smooth and controlled.
Tips for Maximizing Effectiveness
Here are some pointers to get the most stress and anxiety relief from your breathing practice:
- Do it daily for 10-20 minutes, even when not feeling stressed, to make it a healthy habit.
- Find a quiet space without distractions to fully zen out.
- Use imagery like picturing your stress and anxiety dissolving away.
- Place a hand on your stomach to feel it rise and fall. This provides biofeedback.
- Start slow at a rate of 5-7 breaths per minute then gradually increase depth.
- Breathe in through your nose and out through pursed lips to control air flow.
- Make exhales longer than inhales to trigger relaxation response.
- Notice how each part of your body feels more relaxed after the exhale.
Using Deep Breathing On-the-Go
You don’t need to carve out a big chunk of time to utilize deep breathing. With some practice, you can also do it discretely as mini-breaks throughout your day:
- While stopped at a red light, take 5 belly breaths.
- Before answering the phone, pause to breathe.
- Waiting in line? Breathe instead of checking your phone.
- Set reminders to take 1-2 minute breathing breaks.
- Step outside for some fresh air while doing some deep inhales and exhales.
Apps and Audio Guidance
For help remembering to breathe and guidance on technique, try downloading a breathing app like Calm, Headspace, or Breathwrk. They offer soothing animations and timed breaths. There are also many free videos and audio recordings on YouTube and podcast apps leading you through deep breathing exercises. Experiment to find one with a voice and instructions that resonate with you.
Yoga and Meditation Synergy
Deep breathing is an integral part of both yoga and meditation. If you already have a mindfulness meditation practice, focus on taking slower, deeper breaths during it. Try ending your yoga practice by laying in Savasana pose and doing 10 belly breaths. Combining breathing with these relaxing practices magnifies the de-stressing benefits.
Other Stress Management Techniques
While deep breathing is extremely effective for anxiety relief, also consider weaving in other stress management techniques like:
- Regular moderate exercise to release feel-good endorphins
- Laughing and using humor
- Practicing gratitude
- Spending time outdoors in nature
- Getting enough sleep
- Talking things through with a friend or journaling
- Saving time for hobbies you enjoy
Make deep breathing a habit and watch your stress and anxiety start to melt away. By dedicating just a small sliver of time to being present with your breath, you invest in both your mental and physical health. The more you make deep breathing a daily ritual, the easier it will become to tap into its calming powers whenever you need them most. With some concerted practice, you’ll train your mind and body to respond to stress in a controlled, relaxed way.