“Breathing has a special power over the mind. Proper breathing brings better health including stress reduction, insomnia prevention, emotion control, and improved attention. All of [the techniques] I describe in this article apply principles that have been proved effective. They aim to slow, deepen or facilitate breathing, and they use breathing as a focal point or a metronome to distract attention from negative thoughts,” says Christophe André in Scientific American.
Six Techniques for Relieving Stress
Stand Up Straight
Posture is important for breathing: hold yourself straight, without stiffness, shoulders back, sitting or standing. This body posture facilitates the free play of the respiratory muscles (of the diaphragm and between the ribs). Good posture enables your body to breathe properly on its own.
Follow Your Breath
Simply observe your respiratory movements: be aware of each inhalation and exhalation. Focus on the sensations you feel as air passes through your nose and throat or on the movements of your chest and belly. When you feel your thoughts drift (which is natural), redirect your attention to your breath.
Breathe “through your stomach” as much as possible: start by inflating your belly by inhaling, as if to fill it with air, then swell your chest; as you exhale, first “empty” your stomach, then your chest. This type of breathing is easier to observe and test while lying down, with one hand on your stomach.
Near the end of each inhalation, pause briefly while mentally counting “1, 2, 3” and holding the air before exhaling. This counting while not breathing can also be done after exhaling or between each inhalation or exhalation. It is often recommended for anxious patients to calm anxiety attacks because it induces a beneficial slowing of the breathing rate.
Breathe in and out slowly through one nostril, holding the other one closed using your finger; then reverse and continue by alternating regularly. There are many variations of this exercise—for example, inhaling through one nostril and exhaling through the other. Research suggests that what is most important, aside from slowing the breathing rhythm, is breathing through the nose, which is somewhat more soothing than breathing through your mouth.
Think Reassuring Thoughts While Breathing
With each breath, think soothing thoughts (“I am inhaling calm”). With each exhalation, imagine that you are expelling your fears and worries (“I am exhaling stress”).