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Breathing Exercises to Combat Stress

Breathing Exercises to Combat Stress hero image

The global pandemic has brought about many challenges, including impacting our mental health. With the new normal impacting so many areas of our lives and growing uncertainty causing anxiety, it can all become a little overwhelming. However, there are a few practices we can learn, such as breathing exercises, to find a sense of calmness and help to combat those anxious feelings.

Breathing exercises are one of the most recommended and fast acting stress relief methods. They require little practice, making them the perfect exercise for anyone new to stress coping mechanisms. You don’t need a fancy yoga studio or a silent room, you just need yourself and a few minutes to relax.

Typical stress responses, such as increased heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure can all be alleviated by taking a few deep breaths and letting a little calm in. So, next time you’re feeling stressed, tired or nervous, just take a moment to find your inner Zen with these five, easy to follow breathing techniques.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

If you’re a frequent yoga goer then you’ll already be familiar with this yoga breathing technique also known as ‘nadi shodhana pranayama’. It’s one of the best breathing exercises for anxiety, with a study finding that alternate nostril breathing can help slow down your heart rate, lower stress levels and improve cardiovascular health. All it requires is some deep concentration, making it the perfect exercise to relieve work related stress.

1. Close your right nostril with your thumb, and inhale slowly through the left nostril, close it with your finger. Pause. Open and exhale slowly through the right nostril.

2. Inhale slowly through the right nostril then close it with the thumb.

3. Exhale through the left nostril. Once your exhalation is complete, inhale through the left. Pause before moving to the right.

4. Repeat 4-7 times.

Pursed lip breathing

This technique releases trapped air in the lungs, whilst keeping the airways open for longer so that you can take fewer, more controlled breaths. This helps to slow down your breathing so that your whole body can begin to relax. It also relieves shortness of breath, which has been found to help sufferers of COPD – a group of lung conditions that can cause breathing difficulties.

1.Relax your neck and shoulders

2. Inhale for two seconds (this doesn’t need to be a deep breathe)

3. Pucker your lips (like you are about to whistle) and breathe out for four seconds.

4.Do this 3-4 times a day so you can pick up the correct breathing pattern.

Box Breathing

Box breathing helps to reset your breathing pattern back to its normal rhythm. Also known as ‘square breathing’, it focuses on the four ‘corners’ of breath; inhale, hold, exhale, hold. This control has shown to improve concentration and performance, as well as helping to calm and regulate the nervous system. All you need to do is find a comfy position, close your eyes, and…

1.Inhale through your nose while counting to four. If you’re a beginner you may find the four count difficult, so feel free to start with three seconds and work your way up once you’ve had more practice!

2. Exhale for 4 seconds.

3. Repeat at least three times or until you’re feeling more relaxed.


The 4-7-8 breathing method is often described as a ‘natural tranquiliser for the nervous system’ because it’s one of the best breathing techniques to help you fall asleep. If you are someone who suffers with stress induced insomnia then perhaps try the 4-7-8 sleep method when you’re next heading to bed. Here’s how to do it:

1.Breathe in through your nose quietly to a count of four.

2. Hold your breath for a count of seven.

3. Exhale through your mouth while counting to eight.

4. This is one “breath cycle”, and you should repeat it 3 times, completing 4 cycles in total.

Abdominal Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing helps to slow down your breathing pattern by engaging the abdominals and using the diaphragm correctly. Also known as deep breathing, it requires a bigger inhalation, which stretches the lungs and gets more air circulating around the body. Not only does it help to strengthen the diaphragm but can relieve stress, making it the perfect exercise to do before a stressful event or before bed when you need to wind down.

When first learning this technique it might be easier to lie down on your back.

1.Take a deep breathe in through your nose, ensuring it’s your stomach that inflates with air, not your chest.

2. Breathe in deeply for two seconds and don’t be afraid to push your stomach out as it expands with air. Your shoulders should not be rising or falling.

3. Breathe out slowly through the mouth.

4. Repeat for 5-10 minutes.

So, there you have it! 5 simple breathing exercises you can use anytime, anywhere when you’re feeling stressed or anxious. For more stress-relief and wellbeing tips take a look at our Mindfulness Activities and Benefits of Yoga blogs.

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