Breathing exercises for reducing stress and anxiety

When you’re feeling stressed, an effective tool is learning how to breathe properly. Here are some breathing exercises for stress and anxiety.

When you’re feeling stressed or anxious, an effective tool is learning how to breathe properly. While we all know how to breathe, many people don’t know how to use their breath to reduce stress.

So why is deep breathing effective, and what are some breathing exercises for stress and anxiety?

 

How does stress affect breathing?

When your body experiences stress and anxiety, you can go into a ‘fight or flight’ mode. Your breathing pattern may change and become more shallow, your heart rate rises, and you are ready to move.

This is a survival mechanism that helps you react quickly in life-threatening situations. However, in modern times, it’s often triggered by common life stressors such as a disagreement with someone, problems at work or traffic jams.

When you’re relaxed, your breathing is slower and more even.

Man having a moment of mindfulness on a beach

What are some deep breathing benefits?  

When you take in a deep breath, your body takes in a full breath of oxygen in exchange for the carbon dioxide you’re breathing out. Studies[1] have suggested that slow, deep breathing was associated with stress reduction for people managing many problems.

Almost immediately after starting deep breathing, you may notice your heart rate and blood pressure drop.

In time you may have[2]:

  • increased feelings of calm and wellbeing
  • reduced levels of stress hormones in your blood
  • improved immune system functioning
  • increased physical energy
  • more balanced oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood
  • less lactic acid build-up in your muscles.

Q.

Some benefits of deep breathing exercises

A.

Increased feelings of calm and wellbeing

Reduced levels of stress hormones in your blood

Improved immune system functioning

Increased physical energy

What are some easy breathing techniques for stress and anxiety?

There are many breathing techniques you can practise. Below are two examples you can try.

 

Count your breaths

The easiest breathing technique to start with is to count your breaths.

  1. Count 1 as you inhale.
  2. Count 2 as you exhale.
  3. Count 3 as you inhale.
  4. Count 4 as you exhale and so on.

When you’re doing the exercise, make sure you notice your breaths and the counting. If your mind wanders, gently guide it back to your breath and the counting.

You can set a timer on your phone beforehand, or you can decide to do a few repetitions of steps one through four.

 

Box breathing

Box breathing, also known as square breathing, is another fairly easy breathing exercise for stress and anxiety.

  1. Find a quiet environment where you can focus on your breathing.
  2. Slowly inhale for a count of 4.
  3. Hold your breath for a count of 4.
  4. Slowly exhale for a count of 4.
  5. Wait for a count of 4 and repeat.

If four seconds is too hard to start with, you can try two seconds.

You can repeat the exercise a few times if you like until you start to feel relaxed. This deep breathing exercise slows down your breathing and may help you increase feelings of calm throughout your body.

 

When should you do deep breathing exercises?      

You can practise deep breathing exercises regularly and in times of stress to calm your body and mind. You can do these exercises whenever you need to relax and lower your stress levels. By being mindful of your breath, you may see reduced stress and anxiety and be calmer inside and out.

 

Get some help

If you’re finding it difficult to focus on your breath, there are lots of apps you can try. Popular apps include the free Australian app Smiling Mind, as well as Headspace and Calm.

If you’re still feeling stressed or anxious after trying deep breathing exercises, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes talking to your GP or a health professional will give you more ideas of how to reduce stress and anxiety in your life.

Need to talk to someone?

MensLine Australia offers free professional 24/7 telephone counselling support for men with concerns about mental health, anger management, family violence (using and experiencing), addiction, relationship, stress and wellbeing.

Call 1300 78 99 78

If you need someone to talk to, MensLine Australia professional counsellors are here to provide information and support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Call us on 1300 78 99 78 or access online counselling.

 

References

[1] https://www.headspace.com/blog/2016/11/08/take-a-deep-breath/

[2] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/breathing-to-reduce-stress

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