Deep Breathing Exercises for Stress Relief

Deep breathing exercises are a simple and effective way to reduce stress. These breathing exercises promote relaxation, activate the relaxation response, and reduce stress.

Deep breathing has a number of benefits that extend beyond stress management.

Some of these include:

  • oxygenation of the blood
  • facilitation of the removal of waste products
  • massages of the internal organs by the diaphragm
  • promotion of relaxation and health
  • provision of a simple and easy relaxation technique that you can do just about anywhere
  • reversal of the stress response.

Here I provide two deep breathing techniques that I have found useful both as a stand-alone strategy to reduce stress and an accompaniment to other stress management techniques.

These deep breathing techniques are:

  1. the five breath exercise (that can be practiced several times a day) and promotes relaxation and reduces stress
  2. Dr Charles Stroebel's deep breathing exercise that counters the stress response quickly.

Deep breathing exercises: Five breaths to relaxation

Promote a state of relaxation and calmness with this deep breathing exercise.

Place your left hand over your navel and your right hand on your chest.

Take a couple of normal breaths.

Are both hands moving?

Hopefully your left hand moves as the diaphragmatic breathing fills your lungs with air.

Sitting in a comfortable position with your back straight and feet flat on the floor you are ready to begin.

Close your eyes and breathe normally for a few breaths.

Let's begin.

  1. Slowly breathe in through your nose. Feel the air moving in through your nose and down into the bottom third of your abdomen.

    Feel the abdomen rise as you contrinue to fill the middle third and the top third of your abdomen into the lungs....hold very briefly.

  2. Now slowly exhale your breath through slightly pursed lips as your lungs empty, then your abdomen - as your stomach muscles begin to squeeze all the air out.
  3. One more time.
  4. Taking another breath in.

    Feel the air traveling through your nose to the depths of the abdomen.

    Imagine all the muscles in your body filling with oxygen expanding with nourishing life force.

  5. Now slowly exhale. Let your muscles relax and imagine your body becoming relaxed.
  6. deep breathing exercises

  7. Again, inhale and feel the air moving through your nose and into the bottom of the abdomen.

    Imagine the abdomen filling with air from the bottom up.

    Fill the abdomen and lungs until you can't breathe in any more....hold...hold...

  8. Slowly exhale and allow your stomach to tighten as you exhale.
  9. Again, inhale and feel the air moving through your nose and into the bottom of the abdomen. But this time slowly count to 10.

    When you get to 10....hold for 3....and now breathe out for 12.

    Do this one more time.

Do you feel less stress and anxiety after this deep breathing exercise?

Practice this 5 times a day (about 15-20 minutes in total) and your body and mind will become more relaxed over the next few days.

Deep breathing exercises: The Quieting Reflex

This deep breathing technique is adapted from Dr Charles Stroebel, a psychologist and expert in stress management at Yale University.

When stressed, there are a number of physiological reactions that characterize the fight or flight response.

These include a number of warning signs of stress such as:

  • increased vigilance
  • excess muscle tension
  • increased breathing rate.

This deep breathing technique short-circuits the stress response.

With practice, Dr Stroebel says that the Quieting Reflex can relax you in 6 seconds.

The steps to his deep breathing exercise are:

  1. notice what situation is is triggering your stress symptoms.
  2. break into a big, sparkly smile.

    If you are in a public place then this can be an inward smile.

    This triggers a release of endorphins, your body's natural feel-good chemicals.

  3. Make a positive affirmation.

    For example “Body calm Mind alert” or "I can do this."

    This counters the typical negative thoughts that may accompany stress.

  4. Take an easy, deep breath.

    Imagine this diaphragmatic breath coming up through the soles of your feet and filling your abdomen.

  5. As you exhale, let your jaw go loose, unclench your teeth, and allow your shoulders to relax.

    Imagine a wave of warmth flowing through your body.

  6. Continue with normal activity.

The Quieting Reflex is done with your eyes open.

It only takes 6 seconds so practice at work, practice while you are waiting in line at the grocery store, or any other place.

I find that using reminders is a useful technique to get into the habit of practicing. I like to do the Quieting Reflex whenever my cell phone rings.

Several months of daily practice, up to 100 times a day (that’s only 10 minutes), the Quieting Reflex is recommended to counter the stress response.

The Quieting Reflex has been shown to be effective for:

Other deep breathing exercises that reduce stress include:

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