‘Take a Breather’ – The Top Breathing Exercises for Stress

Do you struggle with chronic or acute stress?

If so, then one of the best things you can possibly do to get it under control is just breathe.

When we breathe deeply and slowly, this helps us by engaging our parasympathetic nervous system. This is the process that acts as the polar opposite of the sympathetic nervous system. Whereas the latter triggers the ‘fight or flight response’ that is responsible for our feelings of stress, the former creates the ‘rest and digest’ state which gets our body back under control.

When your breathing becomes rapid and shallow this acts as a signal to our brain and body that we are stressed and scared and it responds by making matters worse. This is why hyperventilation is a serious risk when you’re very anxious.

In order to get stress back under control then, the best thing you can do is to take a step back and slow down that breathing/breathe more deeply. This way you’ll be able to send signals to your body that encourage it to relax. At the same time, the very act of taking a moment out to ‘take a breather’ will help you to remember yourself and to think more logically about the situation you’re in and how best to handle it. On top of that even, simply providing your brain with more oxygen by breathing more steadily will help you to give your brain the fuel it needs to handle any stressful and sensitive situation.

Here then are some of the best breathing exercises for stress…

Abdominal Breathing

Did you know that the vast majority of us breathe incorrectly and that this is one of the reasons so many of us are chronically stressed?

To see if you’re breathing correctly, place one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach and then take a deep breath inwards. Which hand moved first? If it was the hand on your chest then sorry but you’ve fallen into bad breathing habits!

Many of us breathe by starting with our chest cavity – using the small muscles between our ribs (the intercostal muscles) in order to expand our ribcage and fill our lungs. Actually though, the correct way to breathe is through the stomach. This way you use your transverse abdominis (the ab muscle that wraps around your stomach) to expand this area so that your diaphragm can drop causing your lungs to expand and fill up that way. Then you increase the size of your ribs at the end. This allows you to take in more air, is slower and is much more revitalizing.

To give it a go yourself, put your hand on your stomach and focus on dropping your diaphragm and expanding your stomach first when you breathe – the way that we do as babies. You should find that this practice helps you to calm down almost instantly. An added bonus here is the concentration required to breathe properly which takes your mind off of the cause of stress. Over time you should eventually make this type of breathing a habit.

Equal Breathing

Also called ‘Sama Vritti’, this type of breathing is one that you might already know if you go to yoga class (yoga teaches you a lot of breathing exercises for stress). Here you are going to breathe in and out through your nose with the objective being to breathe in steadily for the count of four seconds and then to do the same on the outward breath. This method of balancing your breathing will then allow you to get your breathing back under control and to slow it down, fighting the urge to breathe faster and faster as you get more and more stressed.

Progressive Relaxation

This is a type of breathing exercise with a little muscle relaxation thrown in for good measure. It’s perfect for relaxing yourself before bed and it feels pretty good. What you’re going to do is to close your eyes and then focus on tensing your muscles one at a time starting from the muscles of the face and neck and working through your entire body all the way down to your toes. Importantly though, when you release the tension you’re going to relax the muscle completely on the outward breath (which should be through the mouth). By the end your whole body will feel like jelly and you’ll be completely at ease. This is one of the best breathing exercise when you’re at home – it’s harder to do when you’re up and about.

There are many more breathing exercises for stress besides these but actually you don’t need any of them to make good use of controlled breathing in the fight against stress. All that’s really important is that you are conscious of your breathing and that you slow it down and breathe more deeply when you notice yourself getting worked up. It can make a huge difference!


  1. Great article thank you for sharing!

    1. You are welcome!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. I thought I was doing it right. Thanks for these great ideas! 🙂

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Keith Hillman

Keith Hillman is a full time writer specializing in psychology as well as the broader health niche. He has a BSc degree in psychology from Surrey University, where he particularly focused on neuroscience and biological psychology. Since then, he has written countless articles on a range of topics within psychology for numerous of magazines and websites. He continues to be an avid reader of the latest studies and books on the subject, as well as self-development literature.

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