Decrease stress by using your breath

Focusing on your breath is a powerful tool. Learn breathing techniques that ease anxiety, depression and other stress-related issues.

By Laura A. Peterson, R.N.
Laura A. Peterson, R.N.

During moments of stress, your thoughts may be drawn toward past regrets and worries about the future. Thankfully, you possess a readily accessible and free tool that can be used to manage stress — your breath.

Breath practices are a great way to become more in touch with your mind, body and spirit. Deep, conscious breathing (yogic breathing) can be used as an anchor to stay in the present moment. Your conscious breath can also be used to feel the energy of your emotions, especially the uncomfortable ones that you may try to escape.

During stressful moments, conscious breathing allows you to shift and release negative energy instead of storing it in your body. This is important, because stored-up energy often manifests as muscle tension and other physical ailments.

Breath work has other benefits, too. It can increase alertness and oxygen flow and allow your body to release toxins more readily. Although breathing is something your body naturally does, it's also a skill that can be sharpened.

Types of breath

The two basic types of breath are:

  • Chest breathing, which uses secondary muscles in your upper chest. Chest breathing is designed to be used in situations of great exertion, such as a sprint or race. During stressful situations, you may inadvertently resort to chest breathing. This can lead to tight shoulder and neck muscles and sometimes even headaches. Chronic stress can magnify these symptoms.
  • Diaphragmatic breathing, which comes from the body's dominant breathing muscle — the diaphragm. This type of breathing is more effective and efficient. It can lead to feelings of relaxation instead of tightness.
March 22, 2017 See more In-depth