Oh, morning rush… Don’t we all love it so much?
You wake up late because you kept hitting the snooze button. Then panic hits and next thing you know you’re running around the house fixing breakfast, getting dressed, brushing your teeth, and tripping over things. One clumsy mistake after another, and you end up starting the day with spilled coffee and a whole lot of stress.
Happens to the best of us, right!? Everyday stress, creeping into mundane things, driving us crazy…
Although it’s just a missed alarm clock, your crazy heart rate, rapid breathing, and throbbing pulse make it feel like the world is ending, and your head might just explode.
But wait, there’s more!
As soon as you arrive to work, you pour yourself a fresh cup of coffee, open your laptop, and spend the next couple of hours replying to emails and scrolling aimlessly through Facebook. On top of that, there’re a million tasks that you need to complete by noon, so you’ll probably have to skip lunch (again).
It’s not enough that you’ve started your day on the wrong foot; now you have to deal with stress at work too.
So, what do you do then?
But not just any breathing. The breathing exercises for stress that we’re about to share with you will help you regain control over the thoughts and emotions that keep you in a constant rush.
You take 1,2,3…5 minutes of your precious time to breathe and allow yourself to enjoy a moment of pure relaxation.
What Happens When You Are Stressed?
When we are under too much stress, be it from internal factors or external circumstances, our brain switches to ‘fight or flight’ mode.
When under stress and anxiety, the hypothalamus, the region of your brain sending instructions to your body, sends in the stress hormones.
What do these hormones do?
These hormones trigger bodily reactions associated with stress kicking in – increased heartbeat, breathing difficulties, and muscle tension.
The stress hormones set your entire system on ‘fight or flight’ mode, preparing your body and mind for a potentially threatening situation. In other words, stress is that sense of readiness and alertness that can help you overcome a ‘tough’ situation which requires extra attention.
From this perspective, stress is a highly useful mechanism. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to respond to a problematic situation appropriately. To put it differently, without stress, any difficult project or unexpected task would be impossible to achieve.
If anxiety is normally the alarm that keeps you on guard and aware of incoming dangers, stress represents the extra push that helps you overcome them.
But just like anxiety, stress can sometimes get out of control. If, for example, you waste hours ruminating about all the tasks you need to complete, you will ‘burn out’ without doing anything productive.
Your responsibilities will still be there tomorrow; the only difference will be the stress levels that will rise significantly, as a result of having to deal with an even tighter deadline.
The Incredible Benefits of Breathing Exercises
Over the years, researchers and experts have repeatedly shown that breathing exercises can have tremendously beneficial effects on our physical and mental health.
If you’re thinking about adding some breathing exercises to your daily routine, here are a few reasons why you should do that ASAP:
- You will be able to take a break from all the worrying thoughts that fuel stress and enjoy a moment of peace and serenity.
- You will finally have that good night’s sleep you’ve been missing for weeks (or months).
- You will no longer feel tensed and “on the edge” all the time.
- You will learn to live in the “here and now” and enjoy the present moment.
- You will finally have a tool that puts you in control of the thoughts and emotions that generate stress and anxiety.
Once you practice breathing exercises regularly for a couple of weeks, you will be amazed at how easily you can relax and de-stress using something as simple as breathing.
The 3 Basic Breathing Exercises That Will Help You Calm Down
#1 Deep breathing
One of the most fundamental breathing techniques that can help you settle the physiological symptoms of stress, and reclaim your mental calm is deep breathing.
As the name suggests, deep breathing is about taking long and controlled breaths, as opposed to the rapid shallow breaths associated with increased stress levels.
According to a study on the effects of deep breathing, this simple technique can induce an effective improvement in mood and stress both in terms of self-reported evaluations and of objective parameters, such as heart rate and salivary cortisol levels.
What this study tells us is that deep breathing can not only improve our mood (which in the case of stress is mostly characterized by nervousness and irritability) but also reduce the physiological effects of stress.
What I found even more interesting is that deep breathing seems to lower cortisol levels. Considering that cortisol levels are directly associated with stress; this study clearly shows that deep breathing can positively impact your brain chemistry.
Furthermore, Gina Paul’s longitudinal study shows that the deep breathing technique allowed students to meet academic challenges better by reducing stress levels.
Here’s how you do it:
- Breathe in slowly through your nose while counting to five. Feel the oxygen traveling all the way to your lungs.
- Hold your breath while counting to five. Or there, if it’s more comfortable that way.
- Now exhale slowly through your mouth while counting to five. Feel the air traveling out of your lungs.
- Repeat a few times, while paying attention to the air going in and out of your lungs.
Here’s a video that will guide you through the three steps of deep breathing:
After a couple of repetitions, you should begin to feel a pleasant sensation that travels throughout your entire body. As the bodily sensations and the overall state of alertness associated with stress begin to settle, you will start to feel calmer and eager to resume work.
#2 Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This relaxation technique is pretty much like the first one, in the sense that it revolves around breathing, but with a slight add-on. More specifically, progressive muscle relaxation can help you reduce stress and anxiety by alternately tensing and relaxing various muscles.
This slight add-on goes a long way in helping reduce stress! Breathe as described above – in through the nose, out through the mouth. Slow and steady. As your breathing becomes slower and more constant, you can begin to focus on different parts of your body.
Research on the effects of progressive muscle relaxation indicates that even one session can lead to lower levels of post-intervention heart rate, state anxiety, perceived stress, and salivary cortisol.
It seems that, just as in the case of deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation has a direct positive effect on cortisol – the stress hormone.
Here’s what you need to do next:
- Close your eyes, and continue to breathe deeply, slowly, and steadily.
- As you breathe in and out, start paying attention to the muscles in your body.
- Begin to relax your muscles one by one.
- Choose a specific muscle group.
- Tense your muscle for a few seconds then relax. Notice the difference between tension and relaxation. While relaxing your muscles, maintain slow deep breathing.
- Repeat with a different muscle group.
Here’s a video that will help you go through all the necessary steps:
Once you go through all the big muscle groups – from feet to shoulders – you will notice that your body feels less tensed and your mind more relaxed.
#3 Guided Imagery
This technique will require a little bit more of your time and attention. Just as progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery begins with a brief session of calm breathing. Aside from helping you keep stress under control, guided visualization can be quite fun!
All you need to do is close your eyes, breathe slowly, and imagine a place where you would like to be.
That way, your body slowly begins to relax, and the negative thoughts that fuel stress are replaced with images that will induce a positive mental state.
According to a paper on stress management techniques, guided imagery is among the few evidence-based techniques that seem to have positive effects on stress.
Here’s how you do it:
- Close your eyes and focus on your breathing for a couple of minutes.
- Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth as calmly and steadily as possible.
- Once your body and mind begin to relax, imagine a place where you would like to be. Try to picture it in as much detail as possible and allow your mind to sink into that image.
When stress becomes unbearable and day-to-day tasks that were once readily achievable are now difficult to tolerate, guided imagery gives you the opportunity to escape and recharge. In other words, it allows you to regroup, rethink your strategy and regain your mental peace.The Guided Imagery technique gives you the opportunity to escape and recharge when in the middle of a really stressful day. Here's how to do it Click To Tweet
These are the three simple and easy techniques that can help you handle stress and achieve well-being!
Incorporating them into your everyday life will boost your resilience and help you achieve relaxation faster. Remember, practice makes perfect. You need to implement at least one breathing exercise into your daily habits. Doesn’t matter if you practice it in the morning, after you come back from work, or before you go to bed.
Paradoxically, the best moment to practice your breathing exercises is when you don’t have time to practice.
You will have days when you feel like you’re too busy to spare a few minutes for a quick breathing session. You will have days when just don’t feel like doing anything. That’s precisely when you need to leave aside your to-do list for a couple of minutes and put your mental health first.
Who would have thought that something as simple as breathing can have such a huge impact on your stress levels!?
So, what do you think about our three breathing exercises to handle stress? Have you tried any of them? Did they help?
Share your experience and the results that you had by leaving a comment below!
Clinical Psychologist, Licensed CBT Therapist.
I’m a Clinical Psychologist and a licensed Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy practitioner. My work focuses mainly on strategies designed to manage and prevent the most common mental issues – anxiety, depression, and stress.
When I’m not busy with my therapeutic practice or other work-related activities, I enjoy going out for a jog or hit the nearby gym.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via LinkedIn (link below), or through the Contact Us page.