Breathing Exercises for Anxiety and Stress
Whenever you feel stressed or anxious, take a moment to observe your breathing rhythm. You are most probably taking quick, shallow breaths. Your heart rate is probably elevated. Your respiratory rate is a great indicator of your current mood or state of mind. The more agitated your body feels, the more agitated your mind.
Have you ever noticed the way you breathe when you feel relaxed and tranquil? Take a moment to notice and be aware of your breathing the next time you feel calm. This may be while reading a book, or right before going to bed. Breathing exercises are somewhat of a biohacking technique, in that they make your body feel and think like it does when you are naturally relaxed. The power of breathing can be harnessed and used for many different situations, and in this article we will explore the power of deep breathing for lowering stress levels.
How does deep breathing affect my body?
Deep breathing is an effective way to lower stress or anxiety in the body and, hence, in the mind. Deep breathing helps calm your body by activating your parasympathetic nervous system. Your body’s automatic function (such as heartbeat and digestion), are controlled by the automatic nervous system. This system has two parts: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system controls your body’s stress response. The parasympathetic nervous system controls your body’s rest and relaxation response. When one is activated, the other is suppressed. This is why deep breathing techniques like 4-7-8 breathing are so effective at making you feel relaxed.
By practicing deep breathing, you are sending a message to your brain to relax and calm down. An increased heart rate, fast and shallow breathing, and high blood pressure (hypertension) all decrease as you breathe deeply to relax.
Because of this, breathing exercises are a great way to relax, reduce tension, and relieve stress. They are easy to learn and to practice: you can practice them whenever and wherever you want, with no special tools or equipment required. Finally, there are a number of breathing techniques for many different situations.
How do you practice breathing exercises?
There are lots of breathing exercises you can do to help relax. The first exercise below—’muscle relaxant’—is simple to learn and easy to do. It’s best to start there if you have never done breathing exercises before. The other exercises are more advanced. All of these exercises can help you relax and relieve stress.
Muscle Relaxant is a breathing technique available in the Bloom Breathing app. Coming from yoga practice, it stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system and tranquilizes your body.
- Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position.
- Relax your shoulders and sit or lie straight.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose for 5 seconds, and let your belly push your hand out. Your chest should not move.
- Breathe out with a light “hum” for 15 seconds. Feel the hand on your belly go in, and use it to push all the air out. Exhale in a controlled manner.
- Repeat for 4 to 6 cycles. Take your time with each breath.
- Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.
After you have mastered Muscle Relaxant, you may want to try one of these more advanced breathing exercises. Try all four to see which one works best for you:
- Alternate nostril breathing
- Tension relief breathing
- Left nostril breathing
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Alternate nostril breathing comes from yoga practice and is believed to bring balance to your nervous system. It helps increase focus, awareness, as well as lung function – opening up your airways mindfully.
- Place your thumb on your left nostril and firmly press down, closing the airway.
- Inhale steadily through your right nostril for 4 seconds.
- Switch nostrils, placing your pink on your right nostril to close the airway.
- Exhale steadily through your left nostril.
- Inhale steadily through your left nostril.
- Switch sides, and exhale through your right nostril.
- Notice how you feel after completing the exercise.
After achieving a steady rhythm, complete 10 cycles of alternate nostril breathing. Both nostrils should be open. To better reap the benefits of alternate nostril breathing, practice the technique at least once daily for a week.
Tension relief breathing
Tension relief breathing, known as “Relax” in the Bloom breathing app, is a good way to fight anxiety and tension. It may also help solve muscle tightness and feelings of sickness.
- Inhale steadily through your nose.
- Hold the breath for only 2 seconds.
- Exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds.
Left Nostril Breathing
Left Nostril breathing, known as “Serene” in the Bloom Breathing app, helps alleviate feelings of nervousness. It comes from yoga and can be useful when experiencing panic attacks or rising levels of anxiety.
- Place your thumb on your right nostril and firmly press down, closing the airway.
- Inhale steadily through your left nostril for 6 seconds.
- Exhale steadily through your right nostril for 6 seconds.
- Notice how you feel after completing the exercise.
It is recommended to use breathing techniques at least twice daily to start feeling and noticing their benefits. To start, complete a low amount of breath cycles in a row per session and, as your experience grows, add more cycles to each session.
Bloom helps you learn new breathing techniques in a fun and easy way. You can create your own version and intervals for your own breathing technique, and plant real trees in the process! Tree planting is done through our partners One Tree Planted.
The breathing techniques described in this article are one of many breathing methods that can help you achieve your goals and assist you in everyday life. Download Bloom for free and learn more life-changing breathing techniques. Bloom is available on the Apple App Store.