Have you been stressed or anxious, and someone told you “just breathe”? That’s one of the most frustrating experiences for countless people. You know how to breathe, so why would anyone remind you to do it?
That’s because it works. You’re just doing it or looking at it incorrectly.
Breathing helps us relax by stabilizing our body. However, you need to do it properly. Most psychologists will advise breathing exercises for stress. Understanding the mechanism behind it can help you considerably.
What do breathing exercises tell our brain?
Essentially, anxiety is a form of fight or flight response. Breathing exercises work by focusing on being slow and steady. This process signals the parasympathetic nervous system that it’s time to calm down. It decreases anxiety and racing thoughts.
Breathing also regulates our heartbeat, which helps reduce muscle tension. Focusing on breathing also helps you bring your mind back to the “here and now.” That’s why yoga and other mindfulness exercises prioritize breathing.
Getting started: Belly breathing
Belly breathing is the foundation for effective breathing exercises. You need to focus on filling your lower lungs, pushing down your diaphragm. Doing that ensures you can take in as much air as possible.
Belly breathing is basic, but you need to do it purposefully. We’re used to breathing with our chest. That’s why our chests usually raise when breathing.
To ensure you’re breathing properly, follow these steps:
- Place a hand on your belly button and one on your chest.
- Inhale without raising the hand on your chest.
- The hand on your belly should rise.
Once you’re done, you’re ready for the exercises. For beginners, try to breathe in controlled and equivalent intervals. That means inhaling, retaining, exhaling, and waiting before repeating. Try counting during those steps:
- Inhale for five seconds.
- Hold it for five seconds.
- Exhale for five seconds.
- Wait five seconds before repeating.
Once you build a habit out of that, you can try different approaches. [The University of Michigan has three great tips](https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uz2255#:~:text=Breathing exercises can help you,to calm down and relax.).
Also known as 4-7-8 breathing, it increases the countdown for every step.
- Inhale for four seconds.
- Hold it for seven seconds.
- Exhale for eight seconds.
You can try different lengths, but remember to increase it per step.
As the name suggests, this approach focuses on full lung capacity. Instead of filling your lower lungs, you also use the upper side.
To do this, start with belly breathing. After your lower hand rises, switch to chest breathing. Your right hand will rise, signaling that your lungs are full.
The holistic takeaway
Breathing exercises help us reset our brains when we’re stressed or anxious. Make sure you recognize the triggers and resort to one of these tips. Most people neglect breathing exercises because they don’t understand how they work.