We’ve all heard it. That advice you don’t always want to hear when you’re stressed out, panicking, tense, angry, and worked up. Someone nearby tells you to “Take a breath.”
Relationship between Stress and Breathing
There is a good reason for this old and common piece of advice. When we become stressed, we begin to take shorter, faster breaths, and this intensifies our stress and anxiety. When we experience anxiety, stress, trauma, or panic, we shift in to a reactive and protective fight or flight survival response. The simple act of deep, controlled breathing allows our breath to move beyond our chest and into our diaphragm to bring in more oxygen to waken the parasympathetic nervous system to calm the body. Some of the many benefits of deep breathing include lowered heart rates and blood pressure. Relaxation allows for clear thinking and buys time to use logic and reason for responding thoughtfully to the stressful situation at hand rather than reacting based on emotion. People who practice deep breathing regularly will find that they are able to manage day-to-day stress more effectively.
I suggest practicing first thing when you wake in the morning to start your day off right, and practicing again at the end of the day to relax before sleep.
So how can you practice deep breathing?
Generally, it is recommended to practice deep breathing by inhaling through your nose and slowly exhaling through your mouth. See if your exhale can last longer than your inhale. You might try counting as you practice this technique. One technique I often teach people (both children and adults) is the 4-7-8 breath. Inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, and exhale for the count of 8. Repeat. It may take some practice before you are able to exhale for 8 full seconds, and that’s okay!
More creative strategies for kids:
Practice blowing bubbles
Teach your child to pretend they are blowing out candles
Have your child lie down and place an object on their belly button, such as a beloved stuffed animal. Ask them to watch the object move up and down with each breath.
Sara Kind-Michels, MS, LPC, LMFT
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