During the course of our lives, it is likely we have all heard “Take a deep breath” at least once. While breathing can be a powerful took in regulating our body and helping us relax, in the face of intense emotion it can be hard to imagine how. Breathing is a function of our body that runs on auto-pilot unless we make a deliberate effort to change it. During times of stress our body goes through a physiological stress response process as the sympathetic nervous system activates. This is commonly referred to a “fight or flight,” and the body goes on alert and readies for action. During that process breathing rate and patterns change, frequently becoming smaller (shallow chest breathing, a partial lung inhalation), and faster. The heart rate speeds up, and oxygenated blood is delivered to essential body systems at a faster rate.

With intention we can choose to change our breathing, slowing down the pace of our breathing, and taking slow, deep breaths (abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing) to fully expand our lungs. Slower, deeper breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which engages the parasympathetic nervous system that signals your body to relax, commonly referred to as the “rest and digest” state. When we slow down our breathing, our heart rate slows down, and safety signals are sent through the body to increase a state of physical relaxation and turn off the threat alert and decrease the sense of anxiety.

Breathing may feel like a simple mechanism, but it carries significant power in the regulation of our body and emotional stress responses. Practicing breathing exercises routinely can help you become familiar and more comfortable with these exercises, and can also lower your baseline stress response level. During times of stress when the sympathetic nervous system is engaged, breathing exercises can engage the parasympathetic nervous system and return the body to a more relaxed state.

Helpful breathing exercises for stress and anxiety:
o 4-7-8 Breathing Technique:
   • Inhale through nose for 4 seconds
   • Hold for 7 seconds
   • Exhale through mouth for 8 seconds
   • Video: https://youtu.be/eZBa63NZbbE?si=RWbG_lJckLvrteVA

o Box/Square Breathing
   • Inhale for 4 seconds
   • Hold for 4 seconds
   • Exhale for 4 seconds
   • Hold for 4 seconds
   • Video: https://youtu.be/FJJazKtH_9I?si=mEixiSkwJPWABuxN

o Paced Breathing
   • Inhaling/Exhaling at a slower and even pace, or within a 4:6 ratio
   • Inhale for 4-6 seconds
   • Exhale for 4-8 seconds
   • Video: https://youtu.be/vXZ5l7G6T2I?si=gjRenSvz1C76dubq
   • Video: https://youtu.be/8vkYJf8DOsc?si=5zR4IIh0lP3BJqag