Breathe Away Your Stress

Sep 15, 2021 | Patients

by Brent Hearn • 

Breathe in…breathe out.

Breathe in…breathe out.

Breathe in…breathe out.

It’s simple, right? It’s so simple, in fact, that we usually do it without even thinking about it. It’s a two-step process we repeat at a variable pace from the time we enter the world until the time we leave it.

Breathing often, however, does not necessarily equate to breathing well. And as it turns out, breathing well is good for more than continued survival. It can offer a host of health benefits, including improved cardiovascular function, increased focus, and reduced stress levels. (With the combination of everyday stress and pandemic-related stress many of us are facing, that last benefit may be particularly welcome.)

With that in mind, here are a few breathing methods you might consider trying to bring a bit more calm into your life. Results may vary, so don’t get discouraged if one particular method doesn’t work well for you. If you have a condition that impairs lung function (or any other related health issues), consult your physician before trying any of these exercises.

4-7-8 Breathing

Based on the yogic practice of pranayama, 4-7-8 breathing is a form of deep breathing that can help counter the “fight-or-flight” response to stress that keeps us so…well…stressed. Performing this exercise several times a day has the potential to provide a sense of calm and relaxation almost instantly.

Here are the basics: Touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Inhale through your nose for four counts, hold your breath for seven counts, and exhale through your mouth for four counts. (Don’t worry about how long your four count is. Just try to keep the counts consistent; the ratio is what’s important.) When first starting out, aim for four cycles, but you can increase that to a maximum of eight cycles—but do so slowly, over the course of a month.

When first starting out, you may feel a little light-headed if your typical breathing pattern is more shallow. If this happens, return to your normal breathing pattern until the feeling passes.

Resonant Breathing

Resonant breathing is based on the concept of synchronizing our heart rate and our breathing. This happens at roughly 6 breaths/minute (though that number can range from about 4.5 to 7 breaths/minute), so you’ll need to slow down your breathing considerably from what you’re likely accustomed to. As with other deep-breathing exercises, go for an in-through-the-nose, out-through-the-mouth approach.

Box Breathing

Box breathing—so named as it has four equal components—was introduced to the special operations community by Mark Divine, a retired U.S. Navy Seal commander. (If it’s good enough to bring calm and focus to elite soldiers, it’ll probably pass muster in the preschool drop-off line.)

To practice box breathing, sit in a chair or on the ground. Set a timer for five minutes, during which you’ll alternate inhaling for five seconds, holding your breath for five seconds, exhaling for five seconds, and holding your breath for five seconds.