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5 Breathing Exercises for Stress and Anxiety Relief

Dec 30, 2021 By One Medical
Young woman practicing deep breathing while listening to music

Breathing is something that we often take for granted. We do it all day, everyday, usually without ever stopping to think about it. But even though we don’t need to be conscious of our every breath to live, there is good reason to pay closer attention to how you inhale and exhale — your stress levels!

Deep breathing and stress

When we’re stressed, our sympathetic nervous system kicks into fight-or-flight mode, sending our heart pumping and disrupting our normal breathing pattern. Our breath becomes quick, shallow, and labored. While this response may be helpful in the face of imminent danger, prolonged stress can wreak havoc on our physical and mental health.

Fortunately, deep breathing and breath control can combat this. When you make a conscious effort to slow your breath, you send a signal to your brain that all is well. In doing so, the sympathetic nervous system shuts down and the parasympathetic system — known as the rest-and-digest system— kicks in, easing all those physical responses and inviting a sense of relaxation and calm.

Breathing exercises

Practicing breathwork can help ease feelings of stress, tension and anxiety, as well as root your mind in the present. If you’re feeling stressed or recognize triggers, try adding one of these breathing exercises into your day. Even just a few minutes can make a big difference.

1. Box breathing

Prior to beginning, sit with your back in a comfortable chair, with your feet planted firmly on the floor. Close your eyes. Begin by slowly exhaling all of your air out. Gently inhale for four counts through your nose, hold for four counts, and exhale four counts through your mouth. Wait for four counts and repeat.

2. 4-7-8 breathing

Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Let your lips part. Make a whooshing sound, exhaling completely through your mouth. Close your lips, inhaling silently through your nose as you count to four in your head. Then, for seven seconds, hold your breath. Make another whooshing exhale from your mouth for eight seconds and repeat.

3. Pursed lip breathing

While this particular technique can be practiced anytime, it’s particularly effective when you’re focused and relaxed. To begin, inhale through your nose for at least two seconds, feeling the air move into your abdomen. Try to fill your abdomen with air instead of just your lungs. Purse your lips like you’re blowing on hot food or whistling and exhale slowly for four seconds. Repeat for 3 to 4 breaths. Remember to stop immediately if you begin to feel light-headed or dizzy.

4. Diaphragmatic breathing

While this technique can be practiced while standing or sitting, laying down seems to help most people do it correctly. Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Breathe in through your nose for about two seconds, feeling your stomach expand. The hand on your chest should barely move at all. Purse your lips (as if you’re about to drink through a straw), press gently on your stomach, and exhale slowly for about two seconds. Again, the hand on your chest should barely move. Repeat.

5. Alternate nostril breathing

Exhale completely and then use your right thumb to close your right nostril. Inhale through your left nostril and then close the left nostril with your fingers. Open the right nostril and exhale through this side. Inhale through the right nostril and then close this nostril. Open the left nostril and exhale through the left side.This is one cycle. Repeat.

For more breathing exercises and help managing stress, reach out to your primary care provider.

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Orange County,Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

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