You’ve probably heard about breathing techniques and how they can help to calm your body and mind.
And you’re absolutely right. Breathing techniques are so simple, so immediate and so effective that it’s easy to overlook them or simply forget to breathe when you’re feeling stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, or upset.
So in this blog, I’m excited to share with you three specific techniques you can use at any time to instantly calm yourself.
Breathing happens automatically. And thank goodness we don’t have to concentrate on breathing. Can you imagine how difficult life would be if we constantly had to remind ourselves to breathe—if it required focus and effort? It would be impossible to get anything done (and we’d all probably be passing out a lot more often).
Yet, because breathing is automatic, it’s easy to take your life-giving breath for granted. It’s also easy, and incredibly common to forget to breathe deeply—especially under stress or other heightened emotional states.
For example, think about what happens when you’re tense, stressed, frightened or even angry…
Chances are, in addition to muscles tensing and heart beating faster, your breathing quickens or becomes shallower.
When that happens, it only exacerbates the intense sensations you’re experiencing.
However, when you intentionally and consciously deepen and slow down your breathing, it signals your parasympathetic nervous system that you’re safe and it’s time to calm down. The stress hormones start to metabolize, your muscles relax, your heart rate returns to normal, it’s easier to think clearly, make rational decisions, etc.
In addition to physiologically relaxing your body, practicing breathing techniques with your conscious awareness helps you slow down the racing thoughts that often accompany stress, anxiety, anger and so on.
Furthermore, when you’re able to do that, you’re able to self-regulate your thoughts, emotions, and body. That’s powerful!
So here are a few proven breathing techniques that will help you calm your mind, emotions, and body, virtually instantly.
This one is called square breathing because it has four parts to it (don’t worry, it’s really simple). First, inhale slowly through your nostrils until your lungs are full. Second, hold the breath in for several seconds (for example, a slow four-count). Third, exhale slowly and controlled through your mouth, as if you were exhaling through a straw, until every last bit of air is out of your lungs. Finally, hold at the bottom of your breath for a few seconds (again, a slow-count) before inhaling again. Do this for a few rounds and notice how you feel.
Inhale slowly and deeply through your nostrils while slowly counting to four in your head (“one Mississippi, two Mississippi…”). Hold at the top of your breath for a slow five count. Then exhale through your mouth for a slow six count. In addition to the physiological effects of the deep breathing, this technique forces your mind to focus on the counting which is helpful for interrupting whatever stream of racing thoughts might be going on when you’re upset about something. The increasing counts also force you to be slow and controlled in your breath, which enhances the benefits.
This technique is actually good to practice as a part of the others above, as well as by itself. When tense, we tend to breathe shallowly (up in the chest and shoulders), and this technique brings the breath down low for deeper calming effects. First, place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. As you inhale through your nostrils, focus on bringing each inhale down low into your diaphragm (the muscle between your abdomen and chest). When you do this correctly, you’ll feel your belly expand like a balloon. Your chest should stay mostly still. Breathe in as deeply as you can, then exhale slow and controlled through your mouth until all the air is gone. Repeat as many times
as you wish.
When you use any of these techniques, practice noticing the sensations of your breath with your conscious awareness. Put your attention on it.
Go ahead and try these now. I also encourage you to practice one or more of these (whichever you like the most) every day, even at times when you already feel calm and any time you catch yourself getting worked up about something.
Practicing breathing techniques is an excellent mindfulness practice and the more you practice this, the more you will strengthen the adaptive connections in your brain that will make this calming response natural for you.
In fact, a client recently told me he noticed that mindful awareness of his emotions, and the ability to calmly decide how to respond to his emotions—rather than reacting—has become so natural for him, he doesn’t even have to think about it anymore. It just happens.
As a result, he said that while the last month was one of the most difficult and stressful he can remember, he handled it exceptionally well—without getting angry, overwhelmed, or blowing up. He told me that he and his wife didn’t even have one argument in the last month due to being able to regulate himself this way.
How cool is that!
So what benefits might these breathing techniques have for you?
Do you have any additional breathing techniques that you personally like to practice?
Comment below and let me know how it goes! I always love to hear from people about how applying these skills in your life has helped you.
P.S… Interested to learn more simple and powerful techniques you can use everyday to better manage your emotions? Check out the rest of my blog and be sure to subscribe below for tons of helpful articles on all things mental health & wellness. You’ll also love my eBook, The Stress Solution.