Breathing techniques for controlling stress

Originally written for , published 5 May 2015


Have you ever noticed what happens to your breathing when you get stressed? Breaths become quicker and shallower – you tend to breathe into the top part of your chest rather than taking those big breaths deep into your belly. People may tell you to ‘stop and breathe’.

Your breathing pattern is affected by stress and conversely you can use your breath to control your stress response or ‘fight and flight’ mode.

You can quieten your stress response and encourage the ‘rest and digest’ response by harnessing your breathing, focusing on it, and slowing it down – all ancient physical disciplines recognised the importance of the breath and how it connects a healthy mind, body and emotions. Consider the role of the breath in yoga, tai chi and chi gong.

The practice of breathing techniques will help to lower heart rate and blood pressure, increase digestive function, stimulate your body repair hormones and clear your head.

There’s many different breathing techniques for relaxation, I simply focus on slowing down my breath and expanding into my belly. Sometimes I like to do breathing squats (see below) or use a guided meditation app (I like Meditation Oasis) as I can lose focus easily.

I’m sharing some breathing techniques here from the CHEK Institute:

Breathing squats

Take a comfortable stance, wide enough to squat down between your legs, with your arms at your sides or in front. Breathe in, then lower down and breathe out. Go as low as you comfortably can, pause and breathe in as your return to standing.

Repeat at your natural breathing pace and breathe through your nose.

Alternate nostril breathing

This is a common yoga breath to bring calm and balance and co-ordinate the left and right sides of the brain. Sitting comfortably, hold your right thumb over the right nostril, with your index and second finger between your eyebrows. Breathe in deeply through the left nostril. At the top of your inhalation, close off the left nostril with the ring finger, then breathe out through the right nostril.

Continue the pattern, breathing in through the right nostril, closing it off with the right thumb, and breathing out through the left nostril.

Piston breathing

Stand in a relaxed posture, and breathe in deeply, let your belly expand. Breathe out forcefully through your nose and let your belly flatten. Use a pulsing exhalation – taking short quick exhalations until you’ve emptied your lungs.

Energy Push

Stand with your hands straight out in front. Breathe in and bring your hands in towards your body. Breathe out and push your arms straight out with the intent of projecting energy from your core out to your arms and hands.

Repeat pushing to the front middle, front left and right and back left and right.

Do these techniques for as long as you need to whenever you need to relax, refocus or take time out. You don’t need to spend ages doing these, even 3minutes on one technique will leave you feeling more energised and alert and you can gradually build up to longer periods of time.