Breathing Exercises For Stress Management

By Marisa Ramiccio. May 7th 2016

Have you ever had someone tell you to “just breathe” when you were stressed out or upset? That advice may sound a bit flippant, but breathing can actually help you manage your feelings of stress. In fact, breathing is a commonly used relaxation technique, and it’s the main focus of meditation and mindfulness. And, since you already know how to breathe, it’s an easy and efficient way to manage your stress.

Benefits Of Breathing Exercises

People use breathing exercises to relax and relieve stress because they’re simple and can be practiced anywhere, at any time. Here are some other reasons why breathing exercises can be beneficial:

  • You don’t need any special tools – You don’t need anything but your lungs, nose and mouth. That means you don’t have to spend money on fancy tools, classes or instructional DVDs to learn how to practice these techniques.
  • Anyone can do them – No matter how young or how old you are, you can practice breathing exercises to reduce your stress. If you have physical limitations, you also don’t have to worry about trying other relaxation techniques such as yoga or Tai Chi.
  • It turns off your flight-or-flight mode – Some people live in a constant state of stress, which stimulates the sympathetic nervous system. Over time, the more the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated, the more it overrides the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for breathing, digestion, urinating and bowel movements. Once this happens, health problems such as muscle tension, chronic elevated blood pressure and heart rate can occur. By practicing breathing exercises on a regular basis, you strengthen the parasympathetic nervous system and prevent these health problems.

Types Of Breathing Exercises

There are different types of breathing exercises, but the main idea for all of them is the same – relaxation. Here are some of the different types of breathing exercises you can choose to practice:

  • Basic breathing – You may think you already know how to breathe, but are you breathing properly? A lot of people actually don’t, as silly as that may sound. You can tell you are breathing correctly if your stomach expands while you inhale. Your chest should not expand and your shoulders should not rise. So lie on the floor with your hands on your stomach, inhale through your nose and count to five. Exhale as much as possible through your mouth and then repeat the process for five to 10 minutes.
  • Deep breathing – This exercise takes basic breathing a step further. Once you slow your breathing, you can breathe more deeply by inhaling and exhaling more slowly. Both basic and deep breathing techniques are excellent for children and teens to practice if they’re feeling angry or upset.
  • Hum breathing – As the name of this exercise implies, you’ll be humming while you exhale. To begin, follow the steps of basic breathing. Once you get into the groove, start humming as you exhale. Keep humming for as long as possible and pull your stomach muscles in to hum a few seconds longer. Rest for two to three minutes and start humming again as you exhale.
  • Visualization breathing – Once again, follow the steps for basic breathing. But this time, instead of allowing your mind to focus solely on your breathing, focus on a positive place or situation that you would like to be in. You may want to visualize yourself going on the vacation that you’ve always wanted to take, buying the dream house that you’ve always wanted or just spending time with family. The situation that eases your worries and brings you a sense of peace is what you should focus on.

Related: 4 Natural Ways To Combat Stress


When practicing your breathing exercises, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Get comfortable – You can practice these exercises while sitting up or lying down, if that position is more comfortable to you. If you are at home, you may want to change into loose clothing, but if you aren’t able to, try to loosen your clothing – take your jacket off, loosen your tie, etc. – to get as comfortable as possible.
  • Sit up straight – This will allow the maximum amount of air to enter your lungs and your stomach can expand and contract much better than if you were slouched over.
  • Practice these exercises daily – If you have a stressful job or are in the middle of a stressful situation, you’ll probably use these breathing techniques often. If this is the case, it’s beneficial for you to practice these exercises for a few minutes every day so that when you need to use them, they’ll come as second nature to you.
  • Customize your setting – As part of your daily practice, you can play around with extras that can enhance the experience such as music, candles and where you do the breathing exercises.

Stress is a part of life, but when it hits, it can feel like a tidal wave. It can be difficult to deal with sometimes, but with these breathing techniques, stress should be more bearable. So remember, when you feel too stressed out, just breathe.


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