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Quick and Easy Breathing Exercises to Cope with Stress, Anxiety and Emotions

Updated on November 27, 2012

Breathe. Just breathe. It's so simple, it can't possibly help, can it? What do you mean just breathe? Of course I'm breathing! What a dumb thing to say.

I have the good fortune of being friends with a lot of highly-evolved folks who know a thing or two about helping the not-so-highly evolved such as myself. But when one of those friends said to me one day, "Don't forget to breathe," I couldn't help but cock an eyebrow and give her a "What the heck are you talking about" look. She told me I was holding my breath. I thought she was nuts, but the next time I found myself angst-ridden, I took notice of my body and realized she was right. Since then, I've noticed that I tend to do that when I'm highly stressed or anxious. I clench my jaw and hold my breath, taking only the most shallow inhalations when necessary. This response only heightens my stress and keeps me on edge. I've learned a few breathing techniques since then that really do ease my tension.

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Easy and quick breathing techniques

Deep breathing supplies oxygen to your vital organs and releases toxins, including those caused by stress. It also calms the nervous system and quiets those racing thoughts, helping to cope with anxiety and improve mental clarity.

But it's not always possible to assume the lotus position and get all Zen when you're trying to make a deadline and, perhaps more crucially, are in the company of others who might think you're cuckoo. But there are ways to pause, even if only for a minute or two, and let the healing breath do its work. Some of these exercises can be done in public while some are probably best left for the privacy of home or the car.

Breathe. Just breathe. When stressed, pause and take notice of your breathing. Are you holding your breath? Taking very shallow breaths? Just observe. Then, if you're holding your breath, begin to consciously inhale and exhale, just to get a regular flow going, not too deeply. If the breaths are shallow, slowly deepen, breathing through your nose, extending to your diaphragm and causing your stomach to expand. Then slowly exhale, through the mouth if possible, but if that's too obvious in mixed company, through the nose. It's best to pause and sit quietly, but if you don't have time to stop whatever you're doing, just pause for a few seconds, long enough to establish a comfortable breath pattern, and resume your task, while still practicing focused breathing. The stress will lessen and you'll feel more calm and clear-headed and able to focus on the task at hand.

Square Breathing - This technique helps when the hamster wheel in your head just won't stop spinning. Take in a long, slow, deep breath, mentally counting to four. Then hold the breath four counts, and exhale, again counting to four. If it feels uncomfortable, go to three or whatever number works best. The breathing calms while the counting helps distract the mind from obsessive ruminating by giving it another focus. This works when I've gone round and round with an idea but can't reach a decision. It helps me shift my focus, take a break and rejuvenate.

Release the stress - When work follows you home and you can't stop obsessing over the boss's incompetency, a client's criticism or the fact that the guy who wears the Bart Simpson T-shirt makes more money than you, it's time to let go. Whether it's work stress or personal life challenges, there's a saturation point where enough is enough and all that mental energy devoted to the past is robbing you of living in the present. Take all that stress and frustration and anger and imagine picking it up and clenching your fists tight around it. Squeeze your fists tight. Breathe inward and hold your breath for as long as is comfortable and safe. Then, let out a rush of air - make noise if you need to, assuming, of course, that you're in private by this point - and quickly unclench your fists and push your arms forward, as if pushing all that stress and angst away from you, releasing it into the universe, where there is a force strong enough to bear it. Leave it with the universe as long as you can, until it's time to pick up that task again.

Create peace- In the midst of chaos, stop, breathe deeply, in and out, and affirm: I am peaceful. My life is peaceful. I am attracting peace. I am creating peace. Say it slowly and calmly. Even if all signs point to the contrary, this really does work. The mind believes what you tell it. Another great affirmation/breathing exercise is to think 'Peace inward' on the in breath and 'Anxiety outward' on the out breath. You can also use 'Calm inward' and 'Fear outward' or whatever emotions you want to intensify/decrease.

The Hisser -Breathe deeply in through the nose and then release through the mouth. On the release, pucker the lips while they are slightly open, then draw them back as though you're smiling. I don't know why this works, but it really helps when angry. The hissing noise that results when drawing back the mouth is an effective release of emotion. Again, this one might best be used during private time, or even on an escape to the bathroom while at work. Run the water if you think someone might hear you. Hey, you've got to do what you've got to do to decompress!

Tough emotions - If it's hard to feel and express emotions, breathing can help. Sometimes, just focused, deep breathing can bring up emotions that have been buried and are causing stress. Whether it's sadness or anger or fear, an emotion can be more bearable if you ride the wave while breathing. The breath anchors and comforts you, letting you know you are more than your emotions and you can feel this and still be OK. Yell or cry out on the out breath if need be. Get that toxic stuff out!


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    • Crystal Tatum profile image
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      Crystal Tatum 4 years ago from Georgia

      Thank you Anselome. Bathroom deep breathing helps!

    • Anselome profile image

      Steve Anselmo 4 years ago from Thunder Bay

      Great Hub Crystal! I know that when I get stressed at work I make a quick run to the bathroom and take some deep breaths. It really helps! But I will definitely try some of these techniques!

      Stay Excellent!

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
      Author

      Crystal Tatum 4 years ago from Georgia

      So glad to hear it MarleneB! I also have that tendency and didn't realize it til a friend pointed it out. She could actually see me holding my breath! It really does make a difference to breathe deeply.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 4 years ago from Northern California, USA

      Your hub made me realize that I have a tendency to breathe shallowly. I practiced all of your techniques as I read them. I like the Square Breather and the Hisser. Those are going to come in handy for me during times of stress.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
      Author

      Crystal Tatum 4 years ago from Georgia

      Thank for reading homegymjock. Glad you've discovered the benefit of breathing exercises.

    • homegymjock profile image

      homegymjock 4 years ago

      Yes! Yes I absolutely agree with this post. Breathing helps. For the past few months similar breathing exercises have really changed my life. Now whenever I sit down to work or write - I always have a 5 minute "exercise". It clears your mind, resets your energy levels and motivates you to push forwards success. It really motivates me to work out in my home gym, which I write about too.

      A tip I have is to youtube "brown noise" and close your eyes while performing these exercises.

      Loved this post.

    • greenpharmacy profile image

      Anandita 4 years ago from Korea

      stress and anxiety are parts of life. Some alternative practitioners suggest yoga and herbal remedies such as St. John's wort..

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
      Author

      Crystal Tatum 4 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks Mary. I still hold my breath a lot, as well as clenching my jaw, without even realizing it. When I breathe deeply and relax my jaw, it's amazing. Sometimes we don't realize how much tension we're carrying around until we consciously direct ourselves to practice letting go through the breath or other techniques. I appreciate your comments, and the follow!

    • Mary Merriment profile image

      Mary Merriment 4 years ago from Boise area, Idaho

      When I was learning how to manage my stress and anxiety, it turned out that focusing on my breathing was a major part of stress release. I actually had to learn how to breathe properly. As you said, I was holding my breath a lot (and often got dizzy and near passing out as a result) and I constantly had short shallow breaths that served to hold in all the tension in my mind and muscles. I love all the different techniques you suggested to help manage breathing and stress. Very helpful!

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
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      Crystal Tatum 4 years ago from Georgia

      I agree Peggy. The most difficult thing about these exercises is remembering to pause and do them during the day. But the payoff is immense. Thanks again for the visit and the vote!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Excellent article about the benefits of deep breathing. Often it is simple things like this that make a difference in our lives. The best part...it is free and easy to do if we just simply DO IT! Up and useful votes.

    • dianetrotter profile image

      G. Diane Nelson Trotter 4 years ago from Fontana

      i love this hub! I have been trying to breath deeply and am able to do it best when warming choir up. I must remember to do it at other times.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
      Author

      Crystal Tatum 4 years ago from Georgia

      So glad you found this helpful Doc Sonic!

    • Doc Sonic profile image

      Glen Nunes 4 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      I do exactly the same thing (shallow breathing or holding my breath) when I'm stressed or anxious! These sound like great techniques, which I intend to try. Thanks for the hub.

    • KT Banks profile image

      KT Banks 5 years ago from Texas

      Great subject. I keep finding myself taking shallow breaths when I watch the news about the recent shooting at the movies. It really is easy to forget to breathe (correctly).

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
      Author

      Crystal Tatum 5 years ago from Georgia

      barbergirl, I understand how stress can really impact your physical health. I've been told a very similar thing as what your doctor told you about my chronic health conditions. Breathing really does help to reduce anxiety. I hope you are able to get some relief.

    • barbergirl28 profile image

      Stacy Harris 5 years ago from Hemet, Ca

      I needed this reminder. I have been sick the majority of this year. It started in February and just recently I got over my last bought of walking pneumonia. During my last visit with the doctor he made a comment about stress. He said if I didn't get the stress under control, I will never regain control over my immune system and will therefore never truly get better. I think I need to start taking a few minutes a few times a day to do nothing but breath. Great advice and great hub!

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 5 years ago from Nepal

      In yoga, breathing exercise is called pranayama. I practice this very often. This helps me to relax my mind and body.

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 5 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      Welcome to HP and the neighborhood. Now, take a deep breath, release it slowly, and write like crazy but wisely! We will all be reading.

    • profile image

      HubTub 5 years ago

      Very nice hub with wonderful advice. I suffer from anxiety and can completely relate to the jaw clenching and the not breathing part, as I find myself doing the same thing. Voted up!

    • DFiduccia profile image

      DFiduccia 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      This hub is a goood start, and it's well done. Welcome!

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
      Author

      Crystal Tatum 5 years ago from Georgia

      Hi tsmog. Thanks for commenting. I think what you're describing is called synchronicity. The universe sometimes gives us multiple signs to guide us to what we need. I hope you find these breathing exercises helpful.

    • tsmog profile image

      Tim Mitchell 5 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Great article and provides reinforcement for me. Discussing anxiety in therapy this passed week, much of what you said, she said too. I think I will re-read while taking heed from your experience and research.

      Thank you for the timely hub, isn't that odd - I dun'no. Like Just Ask Susan I would like to offer a hearty welcome.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
      Author

      Crystal Tatum 5 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks to all those who have commented on my first hub and are now following me. You've given me a jolt of confidence!

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I was unaware of the many ways to breathe to cope with stress. Thanks for sharing this. I enjoyed how you wrote this hub.

      Welcome to HubPages.

    • healthywholefoods profile image

      healthywholefoods 5 years ago

      What an inspiring article. Who would of thought, breathing could do so much for the body. I know, I've tried it myself. Try taking some deep breaths for a few minutes, and see if you don't feel the difference.