Breath Work to Combat Stress

Did you know that stress, affecting 25% of students and likely more during our current circumstances, is rated the top health issue affecting academic performance by university students? It’s followed by sleep difficulties at 18% and anxiety at 16% (Barker, 2020). According to the Mayo Clinic, these are a few of the benefits of using relaxation techniques to manage stress levels: slows your heart rate, lowers blood pressure, improves digestion, reduces the activity of stress hormones, reduces muscle tension and chronic pain, improves concentration and mood, improves sleep quality, lowers fatigue, reduces anger and frustration and boosts confidence to handle problems. While there are many relaxation strategies available to you, breath work is the most easily accessible, so we’ve included three techniques for you to try.

Belly Breathing

Belly breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, is a form of deep breathing using your diaphragm. Your diaphragm is a muscle at the base of your ribcage the contracts and relaxes allowing your lungs to expand and deflate when you breathe. This type of breathing can help you relax because it slows the heart rate and lowers blood pressure. It may also make you tired the first few times you do it, so you may want to try it lying down to start.

According to Harvard Medical, this is how to do it:

  1. Sit comfortably in a chair or lie down on a flat surface.
  2. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your belly, just below your rib cage.
  3. Breathe in slowly through your nose, letting the air in deeply, towards your lower belly. The hand on your chest should remain still, while the one on your belly should rise.
  4. Tighten your abdominal muscles and let them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips. The hand on your belly should move down to its original position.

Energetic Breathing

Disclaimer: You may experience light-headedness, and tingling
sensations in your fingers and feet. These side effects are completely harmless.

This breathing technique is also known as power breathing and is part of the Wim Hof Method. Wim Hof, also known as the “Iceman” is a Dutch athlete with many Guinness World Records for feats involving frigid temperatures. He describes this style of breathing as “controlled hyperventilation.” It helps reduce stress, improve sleep, focus and mental clarity. 

According to Mr. Hof, this is how to do it:

  1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
  2. Take 30-40 deep breaths in powerful burst, inhaling through your mouth or nose and exhaling through your mouth.
  3. Once completed, inhale as deeply as you can and then exhale and hold your breath until you feel the urge to breathe again. 
  4. Draw one last deep breath. You should feel your stomach and chest expanding. When you are at full capacity, hold the breath for 15 seconds, then let go. 
  5. Repeat 3-4 times without stopping.

Box Breathing

Box breathing is also known by the name of square breathing because it uses four counts of four. It’s a simple technique used by athletes, healthcare workers and first responders. It can help reduce stress and improve sleep leading to an improved mood (Healthline). If you ever find yourself feeling anxious or like a panic attack is coming, this is an excellent way to regain control and ground yourself.

How to do it:

  1. Sit comfortably in a chair
  2. Exhale slowly to a count of four.
  3. Hold your breath for a count of four.
  4. Inhale slowly to a count of four.
  5. Hold your breath for a count of four
  6. Repeat 4 times.

Stress affects us all, in one way or another, and how we manage it will differ from person to person. My hope is that adding one of these techniques to your stress management toolbox will help reduce the stress in your life and move you closer to optimal health. Stay well!


What’s your favourite way to relax?

Let me know in the comments!

For other stress busting techniques, check out the FREE Beat the Stress Guide.

Headshot of Sami Grosse

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