Breathe Your Way Through Stress and Anxiety

What is the simplest, most effective way to address stress?  What can you do to slow your heart and feel more centered when things are challenging?  Deep breathing, and Square Breathing in particular, can help you recover, find your center and lower the impact of stress and anxiety.  


You take your lungs wherever you go

Because we are always breathing, bringing attention to this fundamental process can seem simple, even simplistic.  Fortunately, square breathing is one of the easiest and most effective stress reduction techniques we have.  

What’s the easiest way to lower your heart rate?

Just arrived at work and need to reset your focus?  Get centered with 5 rounds of square breathing.  Feeling a little socially anxious at the wedding reception?  Take a moment to step outside and do some breathing, then hit the dance floor.  Need a moment to decompress from work before attending to your home life?  Take a moment to yourself to re-establish your focus before you walk in the door.  

How do you breathe to relieve stress?

Sit down if a seat is available, and keep your back straight, while also relaxing your shoulders.  Relax your abdominal muscles to allow your lungs to expand into your diaphragm.  Inhale for 4 to 5 seconds, while counting.  Choose a number of seconds that fills your lungs to a deep breath without pushing too hard against that natural limit.  Hold your breath for that same count.  Exhale for the same amount of time.  Then stay at the bottom of your exhalation for 4 or 5 seconds, whichever feels right to you, before you repeat the cycle.  


Benefits of Deep Breathing 

Deep breathing calms down the Fight, Flight or Freeze response. A slow exhalation engages the parasympathetic nervous system, which is involved in relaxation.  It turns down your brain’s alarm center. This leads to a reduction in cortisol, the stress hormone.  Your shoulders tend to drop.  You can feel yourself correct your posture a little and expand your chest cavity to accommodate a deeper breath.  The awareness from breathing can make you feel more restful, calm and aware.  According to psychologist and author Rick Hanson, focusing on the breath can be profoundly centering.  

According to the New York Times’ Alisha Haridasani Gupta, just breathe, “When you slow your breathing down, ‘the parasympathetic system — what we call the ‘rest and digest’ system — hopefully takes over and helps calm you down,’ she said.”  Because stress and anxiety are deeply woven into the physiological stress response, square breathing can be key to resetting your mood, your perspective, and your awareness.  


Further Reading:

Harvard Medical School Relaxation Techniques  

Deep Breathing to Relieve Acute Stress

NHS Breathing Exercises for Stress  

University of Michigan One Minute Strategies to Relieve Stress


If you’re seeking further guidance and support in managing stress and anxiety, SF Stress & Anxiety Center is here to help. Our experienced professionals can provide personalized techniques and coping strategies for long-lasting relief. Schedule a consultation today to take control of your well-being.


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