Breathing Techniques for Stress and Anxiety

Breathing can help center your thoughts and alleviate the effects of chronic stress on your health. 
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Find yourself in a place of calm with tried-and-tested breathing techniques This ancient yogic philosopher combined the meanings of breath and life force into one Sanskrit word – ‘pranayama’. The underpinning wisdom recognized breath as a fundamental anchoring point for life. Outside of its biological function, research has time and time again proved that focusing on our breathing patterns can induce a deep physiological relaxation response, reinforcing the mind-body connection, which is deepened when combined with meditative techniques. Mindfulness has increased in popularity in recent years and combines conscious awareness of breath, perception, and cognition into one meditative system. Breathing techniques widely feature in other practices, including yoga, tai chi, qi gong, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery, to name a few.   Focusing on your breath can provide an important counterbalance to the effects of stress hormones, known as catecholamines, that wreak a number of physiological effects on the body in daily life – compounding into elevations of heart rate, breath rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. Persistent, chronic, stress provokes a constant ‘fight and flight’ response from your body, posing the greatest threat to modern day peace-of-mind. Deep breathing techniques have long been considered tonics for stress, anxiety, panic, and depression, with benefits reported for mood, blood pressure, and even immunity.   A simple exercise As a starting point, here is a foundational exercise that can be used anywhere. The key to deep breathing is recruiting your diaphragmatic muscles and allowing your lungs to fully expand. This is known as belly or abdominal breathing.
  1. 1. Sit in a comfortable position, placing one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest. Begin by exhaling gently, emptying your lungs out completely. When you breathe in, you should feel both hands rise and fall with each breath. You can breathe in through your nose and out your mouth, as you find comfortable.
  2. 2. Focus on the length of your breathing in (inspiration) and breathing out (expiration). You can count to 5 during inspiration, hold for 2 seconds, and then count to 5 during expiration. Try to focus your thoughts on your breath. Many find it useful to visualize the four sides of a square whilst counting through these phases.
  3. 3.After doing this for a few breaths, begin breathing out through pursed lips, making a ‘whoosh’ sound through your lips – and feel the tension in your shoulders dissipate.

Caution: It is possible to become lightheaded if you breathe too quickly. If this is the case, slow down your breathing and rise from your seated position slowly.

Square breathing exercise. Source: