Breathing Exercise for Anxiety, Stress and Negative Emotion
Scroll down for breathing exercise video, or continue reading to understand how it works.
Physiological Effects of Stress
When we experience stress or negative emotion, the brain responds and prepares the body to deal with what could be coming next. For example, in the emotion of fear (anxiety), the body is prepared for the freeze, flight or fight response.
Physiological changes occur within the body. These are autonomic processes–processes which happen without us thinking about them–they go out of sync from our normal calm state.
For example, in the fear emotion, heart rate, breathing and blink rate increase. Blood is distributed differently within the body, so a large rush of blood heads to your thigh muscles, just in case you need to run for your life. Hormones, like adrenaline, are released, your digestion and reproductive systems may be interrupted, and your vocal cords tighten.
Physical Effects of Stress
While we aren’t aware of most of these physiological changes, we are often aware of the physical sensations they create–butterflies in the stomach, shaky hands and legs and a higher pitched squeaky voice.
The key to quelling stress and negative emotion is all in our breath. Why? Because breathing is a unique autonomic process–if we want to, we can control it!
When we focus on our breathing, slowing it down, something incredible happens within us. It reins in the other autonomic processes that have gone into overdrive, and we regain control over our body and emotion.
I’ve created a simple animated breathing exercise, helping you to stop stress and negative emotion in its tracks. Prevention is better than cure, so if you have an upcoming stressful event, use this to keep the stress at bay.
Slow, controlled breathing reduces stress in the moment, but used over time it has all kinds of wonderful health and wellbeing benefits, including lowering blood pressure, depressive symptoms, pain and muscle tension, and improving mood, oxygen levels and breathing.
Slow Breathing Exercise
Four Breaths Per Minute
If the four breaths per minute breathing exercise is too much of a challenge (it should feel somewhat challenging initially), if you have asthma or other breathing issues*, scroll down and try the five or six breaths per minute exercises instead.
*Check with your doctor before trying any of these breathing exercises.
Use the time that you have, if it’s only two minutes, take two minutes. The videos last for ten minutes–if you have ten, breathe for ten.
Always breathe in through your nose. In this exercise breathe out through pursed lips.
Straighten your posture, get comfortable and feel your abdomen rise as you breathe in, and lower as you breathe out.
There is deliberately no sound on these videos, feel free to add music or sounds that are soothing to you.
If you could follow along with that, congratulations, you just slowed your breath to four breaths per minute! Adults breathe an average of twelve to eighteen breaths per minute. Under stress, that can increase from around twenty to forty-five breaths per minute.
Four breaths per minute breathing rate is optimum to reduce stress. However, five and six breaths per minute also work very well. Never go less than four breaths per minute as it has the reverse effect. The animated breathing exercises for five and six breaths per minute are below–it’s the same exercise, at a different breathing rate, so no need to do all three, unless you are just trying them out.