We are horrible at coping with stress. The most common ways our culture unwinds—things like watching TV, drinking, and eating unhealthy foods—don’t address stress directly and can make stress worse.
Coping with stress in healthy ways becomes increasingly difficult as demands add up and stress compounds over time. Luckily, there is a way to reduce stress that is free—and you already know how to do it!
Tapping into your breath does wonders at calming frantic thoughts and emotions. This article will walk you through why our breath matters and some easy breathing exercises for stress.
How we breathe matters
Breaths that make your chest rise and fall are not ideal. Due to poor posture over time and high levels of stress, many people take shallow, short breaths from their chest instead of their stomach.
When we’re relaxed, our breath tends to be deeper and originates from the stomach. By practicing deep breathing when you’re stressed, you can help regulate your body’s physical and mental state by bringing a sense of relaxation.
Signs you aren’t breathing deeply enough include:
- frequent yawning
- shallow breathing
- breaths that make your chest rise and fall only—not your stomach
Breathing exercises work; they help us to take full breaths that fill the lungs and allows our lungs to absorb oxygen and distribute it to our bloodstream. Tap into the power of breathing for stress relief!
For more information on the power of breathing to manage stress and mental health, listen to this podcast episode with one of Nivati’s practitioners.
Worried about feeling lightheaded?
The feeling of being lightheaded happens when oxygen and carbon dioxide are unbalanced in the system. When you’re used to breathing shallowly, you may feel lightheaded when you begin trying breathing exercises. This is because your body has adapted to the lower levels of oxygen you’ve been feeding it, so there’s an adjustment period. Listen to your body and only do these exercises to the extent they feel comfortable.
Breathing exercises for stress
Add mindful breathing to your routine! Take 2 to 5 minutes every morning to practice one of the breathing exercises below. You can also practice these easy breathing exercises during work breaks or at the end of your workday to transition into leisure time.
Here are some breathing exercises for stress relief and anxiety to try out!
1. Synced breathing
Follow along with this animation by Calm. Breathe in as the circle expands and exhale as the circle closes back in.
2. Belly breathing
This method is helpful for calming anxiety. Just be sure to breathe slowly. By expanding the belly, you allow deeper breaths to happen, to ensure you’re not just breathing into the top of your lungs.
- Rest one hand on your belly at your navel.
- As you inhale, breathe down deep and push your belly out so you feel your hand rising with your breath as it rests on your belly.
- On the exhale, allow your belly to relax.
- Repeat for 5 breaths.
3. 4x4x4 breaths/box breathing
This method creates a rhythm that can be a helpful reminder to the body to take deeper breaths.
- Inhale for a count of 4.
- Hold the breath for 4.
- Then exhale to a count of 4.
- Repeat for 5-10 cycles.
You can try to increase your counts up to 7, as long as your inhale and exhale are even.
4. Alternate nostril breathing
This is a common yoga breathing exercise for stress relief, called Nadi Shodhana. This method is said to reduce stress, enhance focus, and restore balance to the mind and body —one of the best breathing exercises for stress.
Alternate nostril breathing is just what it sounds like — you alternate your inhalations and exhalations through each nostril. You’ll inhale and exhale through one nostril for one full breath while closing the other nostril; then, switch to the other side. Here’s how it works:
- Sit up straight in a comfortable position. Close your right nostril with your right thumb.
- Slowly inhale and then exhale through the left nostril.
- At the bottom of the exhale, close off the left nostril with your ring finger, while releasing your thumb from the right nostril.
- Now inhale and exhale through the right nostril.
- Repeat for 5-10 cycles.
5. Mindfulness breathing/meditation
This breathing practice is more closely tied to meditation than the others. Here’s how it works:
- Sit up straight but not stiff, close your eyes and breathe at a normal pace.
- At the end of your exhale, count 1 to yourself.
- After the next exhale, count 2.
- Follow this pattern up to a count of 5, and then start over at 1.
- Repeat for 5 minutes or so.
Throughout the practice, try not to engage with any other thoughts that might pop up in your mind. You’ll notice you’re distracted when you’ve been breathing without counting, or when you notice you’ve counted past 5.
It’s important not to chastise yourself for getting caught up in your thoughts—just return to your breath and start counting again.
6. Sitali breathing
Sitali breathing is a fun and effective way to tap into the power of your breath.
This exercise encourages you to take slower, deeper breaths and take a moment to be mindful.
You can practice Sitali breathing by following these steps:
- Sit in a comfortable position.
- Create a “taco tongue”—stick out your tongue and bring the edges together. You can also purse your lips.
- Inhale through your mouth.
- Exhale through your nose.
- Repeat for a few minutes.
7. 4-7-8 Breathing
This is one of the best breathing techniques for stress. While sitting, follow these steps:
- Start with an exhale to empty your lungs.
- Breathe in through your nose gently for 4 seconds.
- Hold you breathe for 7 seconds.
- Exhale strongly through your mouth, with your lips pursed or your touch gentle touching the roof of your mouth. You should hear a whooshing sound as you do so. Exhale for a total of 8 seconds.
- Repeat 4 times.
You can also try a shorter pattern, like 2-3.5-4.
8. Lion’s Breath
- Sit somewhere comfortable, preferrable on the ground.
- Lean forward and place your hands on the floor.
- Spread your fingers wide.
- Inhale through your nose.
- Open your mouth, stick out your tongue, and point it down towards your chin.
- Exhale strongly, and make a “haa” sound as you do so.
- Breathe as you normally do for a few seconds.
- Repeat for a few rounds—up to 7 times.
- Close out the exercise by taking a few more deep breaths.
You can also engage in aerobic exercise to build lung capacity and practice taking deep belly breaths. Running is especially great for this. While you run, be mindful of how you breathe. It may feel odd at first, but taking belly breaths while running can improve your running performance and help you breathe deeply while you are going about your day.
Looking for tools like this to support employee mental health in the workplace? See how Nivati can help your unique team! Request a demo today.