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Breathing Exercises for Stress Relief

Breathing Exercises are Popular for a Reason!

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Updated April 28, 2014

Breathing Exercises for Stress Relief

Breathing exercises bring a host of benefits, including deep relaxation and increased wellbeing.

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Why Breathing Exercises are Popular

I often recommend breathing exercises for stress relief, as a stand-alone strategy or to be used in conjunction with meditation, yoga, and other stress relief techniques. And I’m not alone. I often see breathing exercises recommended for stress relief in magazine articles, blogs, and in best-selling books. They’re one of those ‘golden’ stress relief strategies that work simply, easily, and are effective for virtually everyone. Breathing exercises are one of the most popular and commonly-recommended stress relievers for good reason:

  • They work quickly.

  • You can do them anywhere.

  • They take very little practice to master.

  • They’re free.

  • You can use them in the middle of stressful situation to stay calm.

  • They can effectively reverse your stress response, helping you avoid the negative effects of chronic stress.

The Benefits of Breathing Exercises

Breathing exercises bring wonderful benefits because they can reverse your stress response, which, if chronically triggered and not reversed in a timely manner, can lead to chronic stress. This can really wreak havoc on your body. Therefore, breathing exercises can be said to bring the over-reaching benefit of reversing the myriad problems caused by chronic stress. Purposefully slowing the breath has been shown to trigger sometimes powerful states of relaxation and raise body temperature. Additionally, breathing therapy has been successfully applied in the treatment of the following conditions:

  • Feelings of tension

  • Hyperventillation

  • Burnout

  • Headache

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Sleeping problems

  • Concentration problems

  • Anxiety and phobia

  • Panic disorder

  • Depression

  • Heart disease
(It’s important to note that breathing exercises should not replace a doctors care in the treatment of serious conditions, but that breathing exercises can be an effective part of treatment.)

When To Try Breathing Exercises

Breathing exercises can be used to reduce physical stress and aid relaxation at any time. However, there are some times in which breathing exercises -- on their own or in conjunction with other stress relief strategies -- are the best choice, and there are other times that other strategies are more effective.

Breathing exercises are most effective when:

  • You’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed and want to calm down quickly.

  • You’re stressed and you want to think more clearly.

  • You want to release tension in your body.

  • You’re feeling frustrated and want to ‘slow things down.’

  • You’re in the middle of an altercation and you want to feel more centered.

When To Try Other Strategies

Obviously, breathing exercises can’t solve the world’s problems, and other stress relief strategies need to be used in certain situations. Breathing exercises are excellent for reversing your stress response and reducing stress that you’re feeling in your body right now, but they can’t prevent future stressors from occurring. Practiced regularly, however, they may make you less reactive to stressful situations you may encounter.

If you find yourself experiencing the same stressors repeatedly, breathing exercises can help you respond to the stressors in a more relaxed way, but proactive strategies that change your lifestyle to eliminate some of the stressors may also be a good idea. For example, changing conditions at your job to prevent work stress, or developing communication skills to combat relationship stress may be more effective than just using breathing exercises when you experience daily stress from these situations.

Types of Breathing Exercises to Try

As I’ve mentioned, breathing exercises can be practiced by themselves or with other stress relief techniques. They can be done for a few seconds, or for several minutes. You can really make the experience work for you. The following are some breathing exercises to try:

(Scroll down for more resources on breathing and stress relief.)

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Sources:

Kristeller, J. (2008). Mindfulness Meditation. In Lehrer, Paul; Woolfolk, Robert; Sime, Wesley. Principles and Practice of Stress Management, Third Edition. (pp. 393-427). New York, New York: The Guilford Press.

Van Dixhoorn, Jan. Whole-Body Breathing: A Systems Perspective on Respiratory Retraining. In Lehrer, Paul; Woolfolk, Robert; Sime, Wesley. Principles and Practice of Stress Management, Third Edition. (pp. 291-332). New York, New York: The Guilford Press.

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