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  • Nancy Boudreau, RYT, CHHC

7 Breathing Techniques to Relieve Stress and Anxiety Fast

and breath

It’s safe to say that most of us are experiencing a lot of stress these days– demanding jobs, endless to-do lists, financial concerns and caring for children or aging parents or both.

Mentally, stress can:

  • lead to feelings of depression and anxiety

  • make you withdraw from people and activities you love

  • cause you to snap at friends, co-workers, your partner or children.

Stress AND guilt–What a combo.

Physically, stress can cause:

  • insomnia

  • headaches, light-headedness and dizziness

  • muscle tension and pain

  • fatigue

  • increased heart rate and high blood pressure

  • gastrointestinal issues.

Stress is no joke.

When you’re stressed or anxious, your body goes through physiological changes. The breath quickens and becomes erratic and shallow. Muscles tense up, blood pressure goes up and heart rate increases, putting you in the sympathetic nervous system’s “fight or flight” mode.

Shallow chest breathing reduces oxygen intake which only increases those feelings.

Practicing deep diaphragmatic breathing activates the vagus nerve, which connects the brain and body and triggers the parasympathetic nervous system. This slows down the racing mind, reduces blood pressure and heart rate and relaxes the muscles leading to a sense of calm.

The Benefits of Breathwork or Pranayama

Most of us don’t give breathing much thought. The respiratory system is an autonomic system. That means it happens without our intervention, much like how the circulatory system moves blood through the body without us having to do anything.

We breathe in air that sends fresh oxygen to our blood cells. The cells release carbon dioxide which is carried to the lungs and exhaled out of the body.

But where the respiratory and circulatory systems differ is that breathing can also be controlled.

Pranayama is a Sanskrit word (Prana means “vital life force” and yama means “control”) which refers to controlled breathing techniques used in yoga.

By practicing breathing exercises, you can:

  • Calm the mind, reduce stress and anxiety

  • Improve focus and attention

  • Increase energy

  • Strengthen and improve lung function

  • Improve sleep quality

  • Boost the immune system

  • Reduce blood pressure and lower heart rate

Just a few minutes of conscious, focused breathing increases your oxygen intake which creates a sense of calm, reduces stress and anxiety and brings you back to the present moment.

7 Breathing Techniques to Reduce Stress

Here are seven breathing techniques you can try when you're feeling anxious or stressed.

Unless otherwise specified, breath in and out through the nose. Deep breathing in through the nose not only helps filter out viruses and bacteria, but it also allows you to draw more oxygen in than breathing in through the mouth.

If you start to feel dizzy or light-headed when trying any of these breathing techniques, stop and return to your natural breath

#1 Simple Breathing Exercise/Mindful Breathing Meditation

You can perform this simple breathing exercise and mindfulness meditation standing up, sitting or lying down.

  • ​Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose as your belly expands.

  • Exhale slowly through your mouth making a soft “whooshing” sound as the belly lowers

  • When your mind begins to wander, gently return your focus back to your breath and the present moment. If you have trouble staying focused, silently repeat “breathe in calm, exhale tension”

Repeat for a few minutes or until you start to feel better.

#2 Ujjayi Breath

Ujjayi breath (pronounced oo-jai) is one of the first breathing techniques taught in yoga. It’s also called ocean sounding breath, victorious breath, breath of fire andr Darth Vader breath because of the sound it produces.

  • Lie down or get in a comfortable seated position with a tall spine and shoulders relaxed.

  • With your mouth closed, start breathing slowly in and out through your nose.

  • As you breathe, constrict the muscles in the back of your throat so you produce a rushing, ocean-like sound.

Repeat for a few minutes or until you start to feel better.

#3 Three Part Breath

Also known as “belly breathing” or “abdominal breathing,” three part breath helps get you back into the present moment.

  • Lie down or get in a comfortable seated position with a tall spine and shoulders relaxed.

  • Place your left hand on your sternum and your right hand on our belly.

  • Inhale deeply as you fill up your belly, then ribs, then upper chest.

  • Exhale slowly and completely before beginning your next breath.

Repeat for a few minutes or until you start to feel better.

#4 Box Breath

Box breathing, or four-square breathing, involves inhaling, holding, exhaling and holding the breath to the count of four. It’s easy to learn and can be practiced anywhere.

  • Find a comfortable seated position

  • Inhale for the count of four

  • Hold your breath for the count of four

  • Exhale for the county of four

  • Hold your lungs empty for the count of four

Repeat for several rounds.

#5 4/7/8 Breath

This is a breathing technique that Dr. Andrew Weil, the pioneer of integrative medicine, teaches to his patients. Do this twice a day to help keep you calm and centered.

  • Find a comfortable seated position

  • Place the tip of your tongue on the soft tissue behind your top front teeth.

  • Inhale through your nose for a count of four

  • Hold your breath for a count of seven

  • Exhale forcefully through your open mouth with your lips pursed making a whooshing sound for the count of eight.

  • Repeat for up to four breath cycles

#6 Bumble Bee Breath - Brahmari

At first, you may feel silly practicing this technique, but I promise you it’s worth it. Bumble bee breath is especially useful for children who are feeling ramped up or anxious.

  • Find a quiet place where you feel comfortable making a humming sound.

  • Take a comfortable seated position or lie down.

  • Close your eyes and relax your face.

  • Place your thumbs on the tragus cartilage that partially covers your ear canal.

  • Gently rest your other fingers over your closed eyelids to block out the light.

  • Take a breath in.

  • On the exhale make a loud humming sound.

  • Repeat about six times or as long as is comfortable.

#7 - Alternate nostril breathing - Nadi Shodhana

Alternate-nostril breathing involves blocking off one nostril as you breathe through the other. It may sound confusing at first, but with a little practice, you’ll have this technique down in no time.

  • With your right hand, bend your pointer and middle fingers toward your palm, leaving your thumb, ring finger, and pinky extended.

  • Close your eyes or softly gaze downward.

  • Close off your right nostril with your thumb.

  • Inhale through your left nostril.

  • Close off your left nostril with your ring finger.

  • Open and exhale through your right nostril.

  • Inhale through your right nostril.

  • Close off your right nostril with your thumb.

  • Open and exhale through your left nostril.

  • Inhale through your left nostril.

Work up to 10 rounds of this breathing pattern.

Practice Breathing Exercises to Relieve Stress and Anxiety

With regular practice, pranayama can help relieve stress and anxiety and calm you down quickly.

Give one of these techniques a try and let me know how it goes.

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