When It Comes to Stress: Just Breathe

When you are experiencing stress, don’t panic, do 10–20 minutes of abdominal breathing. Abdominal breathing (or diaphragmatic breathing) helps control the nervous system and encourages the body to relax. Scientific studies have shown that by copying a relaxed breathing pattern you can influence the nervous system that calms the body’s involuntary functions. This change in body functions helps in managing stress and stress-related conditions.

When a person is under stress, their breathing pattern changes. Typically, a person under stress takes small, shallow breaths, using their shoulders rather than their diaphragm to move air in and out of their lungs. This type of breathing disrupts the balance of gases in the body and can prolong feelings of anxiety by making the physical symptoms of stress worse.

On the other side, when a person is relaxed, they breathe through their nose in a slow, even and gentle way. Controlled breathing can promote physiological changes that include:

  • lowered blood pressure and heart rate
  • reduced levels of stress hormones in the blood
  • reduced lactic acid buildup in muscle tissue
  • balanced levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood
  • improved immune system functioning
  • increased physical energy
  • increased feelings of calm and well-being.


How to Breathe Abdominally

Although there are different breathing techniques used to bring about relaxation, the main features are to focus on your breathing, slow you breathing down, and shift your breathing from upper chest breathing to abdominal breathing.

  • It is helpful to have a quiet, relaxed environment where you won’t be disturbed for 10–20 minutes. You can set an alarm if you don’t want to lose track of time. 
  • Sit or lay comfortably and place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.
  • Concentrate on your breath and try to slowly and gently breathe in through your nose and then out through pursed lips.
  • Take notice of how your upper chest and abdomen are moving while you breathe. Your upper chest should be fairly still and your abdomen should be raising and lowering with each breath allowing the diaphragm to work more efficiently.
  • Each time you exhale, allow any tension in your body to slip away.
  • Once you are calm and breathing slowly with your abdomen, focus on the sensation of physical relaxation.

Information adapted from: