Updated: March 4, 2022
By Heidi Nechtman, Pretzel Kids teacher and contributor
Do you think that maybe, just maybe, doing away with over-the-top kids birthday parties and endless to-do lists might make your life less stressful?
Nope! If you’re like me, you may find that life in general is stressful.
And, as it turns out, many of us are understandably at higher stress levels than ever. After all, up to one-third of all Americans reported that they had recently experienced signs of depression and anxiety, a higher rate than ever before.
Don’t worry, though! There are so many accessible resources and strategies to help fend off these stressful feelings, like knitting, EFT Tapping, or yoga classes. Fortunately, one of the best tools to help decrease stress is free and available all the time: Breathing exercises!
Have you ever tried taking a deep breath in a tough situation and found that it really relaxed you? That’s because breathing techniques mentally center us and help our brains get back on the chill track.
If you’re looking for an easy, free way to put some peace into your life, read on for 5 ways breathing exercises help you stay calm!
1. Breathing techniques are an amazing mindfulness tool
How many times a day do you notice your breathing? Maybe you only pay attention to it when climbing stairs or working out. Even when you do notice your breathing, do you pay attention to how you are breathing?
Mindfulness is noticing what is around you and observing it all without judgement, so thinking intentionally about your breath is a form of mindfulness. When you’re actively practicing mindful breathing, you can shift your focus away from stressful triggers and truly notice how your body feels. In this state, you can be more in touch with your emotions, physical health and mental health. This is key for anxiety relief.
Most of us take shallow breaths. Stress or anxiety only makes your breathing faster and more shallow. So, try this breathing technique to focus on your breath instead of your stress!
- First, sit or lay down in a comfortable position.
- Then place your left hand on your heart and your right hand on your belly.
- Breathe in and feel your belly rise. Breathe out and feel your belly fall. This will help you pay attention to your body as you take bigger, slower breaths.
2. Your body needs oxygen to help decrease stress
Deep breathing, such as the diaphragm-focused breathing described above, increases the exchange of oxygen within your body. It brings oxygen to provide your cells with the nutrition they need to power your brain and muscles throughout your body. This also helps remove the waste product of carbon dioxide. Your body responds by lowering your heart rate and stabilizing your blood pressure, allowing you to feel calm and relaxed.
Timed breathing for stress relief
Here is a great breathing exercise for anxiety relief.
- Sit in a comfortable position.
- Close your eyes.
- Inhale deeply and slowly count how long your in-breath is.
- Then exhale, slowly counting your out-breath. Make your out-breath at least two counts longer than your in-breath (the longer the better) for an easy breathing technique!
3. Your brain benefits from breathing techniques too
Have you noticed how your whole body feels under stress?
Your heart rate goes up, your muscles tense and your mind can feel all over the place. That’s your sympathetic nervous system at work! It’s responding to the “danger” that is causing the stress and telling your body to get ready to fight or flee.
When you switch to the fight or flight response, your amygdala is the center of brain activity. The amygdala is the center for survival. This works great when you are running away from a sabre-tooth tiger, but not so great when you just need to finish your report by the deadline while getting your kids’ snacks ready for school!
How to calm down
Taking a quick moment to focus on breathing can turn off the fear-driven sympathetic nervous system and activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
The parasympathetic nervous system slows the heart and relaxes the muscles; its job is to help your body go from stressed to rest. Since only one of these systems can function at a time, doing breathing exercises can actually help your brain switch gears at an anatomical level. Think back to that report that might be due. Your amygdala is REALLY good about worrying about the deadline, but it won’t help you get the work done! That minute of deep breathing will help you return to a calm state so that you can get that report done and get on with the fun stuff, like doing yoga poses for kids!
4. A few minutes of mindful breathing leads to stress relief
Often, when we start the morning off worried about what lies ahead, there is a domino effect that affects the whole rest of the day. We stay attached to the negative feelings from one activity to the next – it seems like each step of the day just adds more stress!
But when you add in mindful activities like a yoga class (whether you’re in one or you’re the yoga teacher), it seems like the day is so much easier and calmer. The same can be true if you start your mornings off with a deep breathing technique. Once you get into that calm state, you can better handle your emotions and stress all day long!
5. Add in a dash of mindful meditation to your breathing exercises
This should include deep breathing as this will benefit not only you, but those around you. Everyone will benefit from your relaxed energy. Plus, since no equipment is needed and you don’t need to leave your house to do any of these breathing techniques, yoga poses, or mindful meditation.
Relaxation techniques take practice!
If you have a string of days in a row where you feel calm, you are training yourself to notice and deal with your stress when it starts to spike.
But, no worries if you can’t remember your favorite breathing technique or don’t have the space to lie down and do your belly breathing. That’s okay! Creating a new routine doesn’t mean that you do exactly the same thing exactly the same way every time, or that you succeed in your new goal at every turn.
If you stick to breathing exercises by setting a specific time or place each day to practice your deep breathing, you’ll eventually become accustomed to feeling calm. You may even use breathing techniques without thinking about it!
You can stay calm!
We know that breathing exercises for anxiety relief may seem challenging. So, take it slow!
Find a time to practice mindful breathing – maybe at the beginning or end of the day – when you can just take five minutes or less to put these breathing techniques into action. Remember, you can do breathing exercises almost anywhere and at almost any time (but not when doing something that requires your full attention, like driving!) You can even get your whole family in on the benefits of deep breathing! At Pretzel Kids, for example, breathing techniques are incorporated into each and every yoga for kids class.
So whether you’re a children’s yoga teacher or your little ones are the students, you’ll learn all you need to to start leading a mindful, stress-free lifestyle.
Heidi Nechtman is a Pretzel Kids teacher and contributor.