The breath is an amazingly powerful tool that you can use to help calm you down when you’re feeling stressed. By tuning into your breath, breathing rhythmically or doing deep belly breathing, you can begin to feel differently. Practicing daily can increase the benefits.
You might be thinking, “I breathe all day long and I’m still stressed!” I hear you. The difference with these techniques is that you’re going to be breathing in ways that promote your body’s natural stress responses and your body will be soothing itself!
Ready to get started? Try the different techniques described below. Notice which one you find to be most helpful and use it any time you feel stressed.
1. Tune into your breath. Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted for about three minutes. Sit upright, comfortably, with your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands in your lap. You can have your palms facing up or down, depending on what feels good to you in that moment. Close your eyes or gaze softly in front of you. Take three slow, deep breaths, filling and emptying your lungs completely. Then let your breathing return to its natural rhythm. Tune your attention to your breath and notice where you feel it. It might be your chest rising and falling or your belly going in and out. Or, you might feel a coolness as the breath enters your nostrils and warmth as it exits. Continue to pay attention to your breath as you breathe naturally. Your attention might wander, because we’re always thinking. When it does wander, I want you to notice that it has and bring it back to the breath. Continue to do this for another minute or two. It’s that easy (or not!). If you prefer a guided exercise you can click the recording below.
2. 4-7-8 breathing. This technique can help reduce overall stress and help you feel more calm in times of stress, especially if you’ve been practicing daily. To do this technique, you will breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth with the tip of your tongue placed on the roof of your mouth, right behind your teeth.
To begin, exhale slowly and then breathe in through your nose for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven and then exhale through your mouth, with the air passing around your tongue, making a whooshing sound, for a count of 8. Repeat this 3 more times. Practice each day when you’re not stressed, so it becomes a habit. When it becomes a part of your routine, begin to use it to help manage any stress that arises.
3. Belly Breathing. Take a few deep breaths and pay attention to your chest and belly. If your belly rises and falls with each breath, you’re already belly breathing! If your chest rises and falls we’re going to do a little exercise to teach you belly breathing.
As you breathe in, try to imagine that your breath is traveling all the way down your spine and into your belly, filling up the space, so your belly fills up like a balloon. Then exhale fully, using your stomach muscles to push all of the air up and out, emptying that belly space. Begin by practicing this when you’re feeling pretty good. Then, as you feel more comfortable with belly breathing, pause and try it when you feel stressed. Here’s a fun video from Elmo to see how it works.
I’ve heard some clients say that intentionally allowing their belly to expand can be an uncomfortable experience. I think that because our culture values fit, tight stomachs, it feels weird to push it out. I suggest that you keep practicing, maybe when there’s no one around, until it feels more natural.
You can adopt one or all of theses techniques to help you live a less stressful life!
Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979.