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Debamita Banerjee

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Breathing Exercises to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Stress is our body's physical and mental response to any adversity it faces. On the other hand, anxiety is the feeling of dread, nervousness, and fear one feels when one's in a stressful or uncertain situation.  

Millions of people worldwide struggle with stress and anxiety each day. A nominal share of both is a part and parcel of our daily lives as all of us have to overcome conflicts and difficulties each day. But, if it transcends a certain limit, it can prove to be detrimental to a person's mental health.  

To prevent one's everyday stress and anxiety from turning into a severe mental disorder, it's necessary to practice proper stress and anxiety management. Breathing exercises can be a great way to do so. They can be used as a prevention method and as a cure for anxiety disorder and chronic stress.  

BENEFITS OF BREATHING EXERCISES  

Breathing exercises can surely work wonders for all kinds of mental discomfort and agitation, but they also have numerous physical benefits.  

Here are a few reasons why doing breathing exercises regularly for stress and anxiety is beneficial.  

Flow of Oxygen 

How you breathe affects your whole body. It replenishes your bloodstream and all your system. Deep breathing improves your oxygen intake. As oxygenated blood enters your brain, your nervous system is bound to function better and make you feel rejuvenated.    

Accessibility  

Breathing exercises are usually easy to learn and can be executed at any place anytime. This provides an individual to come up with a quick fix whenever they feel too stressed or anxious.  

Range of Choices  

Not everything works for everybody, but the great thing about breathing techniques is that there are numerous to try from. Hence, you can find what settles you down through trial and error and makes you feel the best.  

Increased Focus  

People suffering from anxiety often complain about the lack of focus while performing daily activities which further aggravates their condition as their unable to fulfill their responsibilities properly. Long-term practice of breathing techniques is known to improve an individual's focus and concentration exponentially.

TYPES OF BREATHING EXERCISES    

There is a wide range of breathing exercises that can be performed whenever and wherever. What exercises you can perform depends on your level of control over your respiration and current lung capacity, but with regular practice, you should be able to do progressively complex variants.  

Here are some breathing exercises that can help you cope better with your stress and anxiety.  

Belly Breathing  

Take 20 to 30 minutes out of your day to do some belly breathing. It's easy enough for a layman to accomplish and will help you calm down your mind. You can sit on a chair or just lie down on a comfortable surface to set the tone of the action.  

  1. Place one hand on your chest and the other below your ribcage I.e. your belly.  
  2. Relax your body completely and do no clench or flex any muscles.  
  3. Breath in slowly through your nose and notice closely how the air moves into your body. Your belly should inflate because of the inhalation while your chest must fall inwards towards your spine.  
  4. Keep your stomach engaged and slowly exhale through pursed lips.  

Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)  

This is a yogic move that requires you to breathe through one nostril while blocking the other alternatively in a regular pattern. To get the best results, perform this breathing exercise in a sitting position because it'll provide you with greater control over your movements.  

  1. Place your right thumb on your right nostril while slightly keeping your forefinger bent. All your fingers should be extended and pointed away.  
  2. Keep your eyes closed for heightened concentration.  
  3. Inhale through your left nostril.
  4. Hold the breath for a short amount of time. 
  5. Put your right forefinger on your left nostril and release your thumb from the right one to exhale the air out slowly.  
  6. Repeat the process on the other side using your left hand.  

Mindful Breathing  

Mindful breathing requires an amalgamation of focused breathing and meditation to achieve the full effect. You must bring your complete attention to your breathing and abandon all other thoughts. You can perform this technique both sitting and laying down as long as you are comfortable.  

  1. Close your eyes.  
  2. Slowly breathe in through your nose and notice how the air passes through your entire body.  
  3. Lightly exhale while focusing your mind on the functioning of your respiratory organs.  
  4. Follow the same procedure for 4-6 minutes at once.  

Equal Breathing  

This form of breathing stems from pranayama yoga and has been helping people retain their sense of peace and calm since the ancient ages. The basic principle behind equal breathing is that the amount of time an individual exhales and inhales should be equal. It can be practiced both sitting and laying down.  

  1. Shut your eyes and pay close attention to your usual breathing. It will help you understand whether you are inhaling or exhaling more.  
  2. Pick a count for yourself such as 1-2-3-4-5 and then inhale for that set amount of counting period.  
  3. Follow the rhythm and exhale for the same amount of time as well. Remember that you can vary your count as long as you are taking equal time to inhale and exhale.  

Lion's Breath (Simhasana)  

Lion's Breath uses a more aggressive approach compared to other breathing techniques. It helps in relaxing all your facial muscles and joints, alleviates stress, and maintains a healthy cardiovascular system. The exercise must be performed sitting down, body slightly bent forward, and hands-on your knees or the floor.  

  1. Stretch out your fingers and your arms.  
  2. Bring your extended hands to your knees.
  3. Take a deep breath in through your nose.  
  4. Exhale through your nose and open your mouth wide to make a vocal sound such as "aa". Stick your tongue out of your mouth and try to make it touch your chin as much as it possibly can.  
  5. Focus all your energy solely on your movement or right in the middle of your eyes.  
  6. Relax your face as you inhale again.  

4-7-8 Breathing  

This breathing technique can act as a tranquilizer for your body as it completely relaxes your mind. If you have been finding it difficult to fall asleep lately, then this can be a great remedy for you. Initially, it is better to perform this exercise sitting up because otherwise, you might doze off. Eventually, as you get more used to it, you can do it laying down as well.  

  1. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue behind your upper incisors throughout the exercise. 
  2. Exhale through your mouth such that it makes a whoosh sound. 
  3. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose while mentally counting up to four. 
  4. Hold your breath for a count of seven. 
  5. Exhale completely through your mouth making a whoosh sound again to a count of 8.  

Pursed lips Breathing  

This technique is targeted towards pacifying a person when they're under highly stressful conditions or might feel an anxiety attack coming. The breathing method requires you to breathe slowly and deliberately.  

Research shows that this method can be highly helpful for people with anxiety due to asthma or other lung conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  

  1. Sit straight and relax your neck and shoulders.
  2. Breathe deeply through your nostrils for two seconds while keeping your mouth completely.  
  3. Exhale through your mouth for an extended period such as 4-6 seconds. Make sure to pucker your lips while you exhale. Keep your breathing slow and steady and don't rush into it.  

 

Breathing techniques can go a long way in relieving your daily stress and anxiety and even prevent further outbursts. It can also help you retain your composure better during high-pressure situations over time. But, breathing exercises might not be able to help you wholly in case you have severe anxiety or stress.  

If your anxiety persists and gets worse despite practicing these techniques and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, you need to get a proper diagnosis from a psychiatrist regarding your condition and seek counseling if required.  

It can be difficult seeing a counselor or psychiatrist in person because of the lack of qualified professionals in your proximity, shame and stigma over mental health issues, and various apprehensions. Visit iAmEars to seek online counseling from experts and medical professions for all your mental health concerns. You can also find a community of empathetic people who are going through the same problems as you. You can express your problems on the forum and read other people's experiences while maintaining absolute anonymity.  

CONCLUSION

Stress and anxiety can be strenuous conditions that make you feel fatigued for no apparent cause. It's always great to try to solve problems by employing healthy habits instead of seeking strong medication immediately. Breathing techniques are going to provide you foolproof assistance with the same.    

Although, if you have a respiratory condition or are facing severe discomfort while carrying out any of the mentioned breathing techniques, consult your healthcare provider before proceeding further.  

In the video linked below, renowned psychiatrist Dr. Ashish Mittal talks about a fundamental breathing technique to relieve stress and anxiety and demonstrates it for additional reference.  

REFERENCE  

  1. Pursed Lips Breathing: How to Do It and Why It Helps - https://lunginstitute.com/blog/pursed-lips-breathing-helps/ 
  2. How Breath-Control Can Change Your Life: A Systematic Review on Psycho-Physiological Correlates of Slow Breathing - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6137615/