Three Very Simple Breathing Techniques That Help Combat Stress & Anxiety

When young and healthy we may not have any reason to consider our breathing or how we breathe. But as we age, our lifestyle, ability to cope with stress and health conditions may impact significantly on our breathing, which, in turn, may have adverse effects on our lifestyle, ability to cope with stress and health conditions – a ‘double whammy’ of sorts.

Breathing is an involuntary process that happens naturally in the body. Everybody does it. But do we ‘do it’ right? Apparently not. According to research, the correct way to breathe is to ‘belly breathe’, but most people ‘shallow breathe’. Belly breathing is where our belly extends outwards as we inhale and deflates as we exhale.

But, if we suffer from health conditions that affect our breathing, then breathing is no longer the involuntary process we once took for granted. In a society where we’re encouraged to suppress our feelings and emotions to fit in, or to hold in our stomachs to appear slim, we hinder the involuntary process of natural breathing and end up shallow breathing, or, in some cases, holding our breath altogether – with disastrous health consequences.

Stress and anxiety are the main culprits for shallow breathing. This is where we take in more breaths than normal. Typically, an anxious person takes small, shallow breaths, greatly hindering the body’s balance of oxygenation and carbon dioxide release.

Our diaphragm – the wall of muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen – is engaged in a sort of push/pull action with each breath we take. Each inhalation expands the lungs and pushes down the diaphragm, drawing on the lungs and putting pressure on the abdominal organs. Each exhalation releases the diaphragm back upwards, putting pressure on the lungs, helping to release carbon dioxide. This lower lung activation is an important part of healthy breathing and is missing in shallow breathing, resulting in less oxygenation of the blood and less release of carbon dioxide.

The benefits of healthy breathing have been well-documented; it’s known to slow down the heartbeat and lower blood pressure. In this fast-paced world, we can all benefit from healthy breathing. Here are three simple techniques to try for yourself.


Belly Breathing

Belly breathing, also known as healthy breathing, abdominal breathing, or diaphragmic breathing is one of our body’s strongest self-healing mechanisms.

This is where we breathe in deeply through the nose to fill the lungs and then exhale through the mouth to release carbon dioxide.

  1. In a comfortable, seated position, place one hand on the stomach and the other hand on the chest.
  2. Inhale slowly and deeply through the nose and notice as each inhalation expands the lungs and pushes down the diaphragm. Notice as your hand moves with the expansion of the abdomen.
  3. Exhale slowly through the mouth and notice – with each exhalation – that the diaphragm releases back upwards, putting pressure on the lungs. Notice as your hand senses the deflation of the abdomen as breath is released up and out through the mouth.
  4. Repeat this breathing technique for approximately six cycles.


The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique

The 4-7-8 breathing technique is carried out by breathing out audibly through the mouth (whooshing sound) and inhaling in through the mouth (quietly). The entire technique is completed with the tip of the tongue placed against the ridge behind the upper front teeth. This tongue position is maintained for the duration of the exercise, even during the exhale! Pursing your lips helps.

  1. In a comfortable, seated position, place the tip of the tongue against the ridge behind the upper front teeth.
  2. With mouth closed, inhale quietly, as you mentally count your in-breath for a count of four.
  3. Gently hold your breath for a count of seven.
  4. Exhale completely through your mouth, making an audible whooshing sound as you mentally count your exhalation for the count of eight.
  5. Repeat the breathing technique for approximately six cycles, maintaining the 4-7-8 sequence.


Alternate Nostril Breathing Technique

This particular technique helps switch off the monkey mind and helps you feel more alert and focused. This form of breathing is performed as you alternate your breathing through each nostril.

  1. Place yourself in a comfortable, seated position.
  2. With your dominant hand extended, press the fingertips of your index and middle fingers onto the palm of your hand, leaving the ring and little fingers and thumb extended.
  3. Bring your hand to your nose and press your thumb on the outside of one nostril. Inhale deeply through the opposite nostril. At the pause between inhale and exhale, release your thumb pressure, and press your ring and little fingers on the outside of your other nostril, and exhale. Then repeat for approximately six cycles.
  4. Switch sides. This time inhale through the nostril that you originally exhaled through, and exhale through the other. Complete this technique an equal number of rounds.

It’s worth developing a routine where you regularly practice these breathing techniques. It helps if you can identify specific events or times in your day where you can incorporate your breathing practice. For example, in the shower, or queuing for a bus, or during your lunch break.