a man breathing in and out, meditating and relaxing

Deep Breathing for Stress Relief

Breathing exercises can have an impact on your overall stress level because they can help you relax. When you breathe deeply, a message is sent to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends that message to your body.

Effects of stress

Not all stress is bad

What are some of the things that can happen when you are stressed? First, it's important to remember that not all stress is bad. Stress can help you achieve peak performance during a higher-pressure event by getting your body ready for the challenge. It can also be helpful in the context of exercise where muscles are pushed beyond their 'comfort zone', only to heal stronger than before.1

But some can be

That said, stress is not always a friend. It can cause a fast heart rate, high blood pressure, and rapid breathing, all of which can all be tough on the heart. The potential for problems is higher when stress becomes chronic. Chronic stress can contribute to the development of more heart problems, diabetes, and other serious health concerns.

Breathing exercises

The good news is that we can have a role in controlling our stress response. Breathing exercises are a time-honored way of doing just that. They are free, can be done anywhere, anytime, and nobody even needs to know that you are doing them. Check out a few options below.

Diaphragmatic breathing

This is also called belly breathing. Sit or lie in a comfortable position, put one hand on your belly and take a deep breath through your nose. Let your belly push your hand out; your chest should not move. Breath out through pursed lips. Take your time with each breath and try this several times. How do you feel? You can also try breathing in for 4 and out for 16.2

Timed breathing

This incorporates belly breathing and you can it this sitting up or lying down. Put one hand on your stomach and another hand on your chest. Take a slow deep breath from your belly and count to 4 as you breathe in. Hold your breath and count to 7. Breath out completely and count to 8. Repeat several times until you feel calm.2

Visualization breathing with a balloon

This helps you breathe deeply from your diaphragm instead of shallow breathing that comes with stress. Get into a comfortable position, close your eyes, and breath through your nose and out of your mouth. As you inhale, imagine your stomach is inflating like a balloon. As you exhale, imagine that the air is slowly escaping. You do not have to force the air out; it will come out on its own.2

Visualization breathing with stress

Get into a comfortable position and close your eyes. Engage in diaphragmatic breathing. As you inhale, imagine your stress is coming into your body, and as you exhale imagine the stress is leaving your body. Repeat several times.

Give these a shot! Keep in mind that deep breathing takes practice. It will not be impactful immediately. Keep at it as research has shown that deep breathing has an impact on our nervous system.2

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