An unexpected bill arrives, you’re stuck in traffic, or you’re behind at work. Whenever you’re stressed, your body is likely to respond with shallow breathing. You feel anxious and overwhelmed. Fortunately, performing simple, deep “belly breathing” exercises can help trigger a healthy relaxation response to stress, helping you feel calmer and more in control. Here’s what you should know about belly breathing:
It helps you get oxygen deeply into your lungs. By breathing through your belly, pushing your abdomen out fully as you inhale slowly, and then exhaling slowly, fully compressing your belly, you are using your diaphragm rather than your chest to breathe. This helps you breathe more fully into your lungs, calming your nervous system. Studies by the National Institutes of Health have shown that “diaphragmatic breathing” exercises may also help lower blood pressure and reduce levels of cortisol (a main stress hormone in the body).
Visualizing a focal point can be a helpful tool. “Box breathing” or “square breathing” is a simple tool that can help focus your mind on deep breathing; it can be performed before, during, and/or after stressful experiences. You do it by visualizing a box or square with four equal sides. It works like this:
Step One: Breathe in slowly through the nose for a count of 4, fully expanding your abdomen.
Step Two: Hold breath for a count of 4.
Step Three: Exhale slowly for a count of 4, fully compressing your abdomen.
Step Four: Hold breath for a count of 4.
Repeat the sequence. To learn more, visit: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513238/
It works best by making it a habit. While you can perform belly breathing in the moment—at your desk, waiting in line, etc.,–experts suggest establishing the habit of shifting from focusing on stressors to focusing on calm in the following way: Choose a special place where you can sit or lie down comfortably, and practice deep breathing 1-2 times daily at the same time, preferably for about 10 to 20 minutes.
Combining deep breathing with other techniques enhances the relaxation response. Try deep breathing while performing progressive muscle relaxation (tensing, then releasing each muscle group from feet to neck), doing mindfulness meditation, etc. To learn more: https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response
Struggling with ongoing anxiety? Talk to your doctor about a referral to a qualified counselor or contact a qualified counselor yourself for support and guidance.