When you’re feeling stressed, your body responds to that stress in preparation for the danger it perceives ahead. While this bodily response, often called “fight or flight,” is necessary in truly dangerous situations, it can also be stoked by smaller, repeated stresses and worries that occur in your daily life. Over time, these stresses build up and that same response can occur.
Unfortunately, this type of ongoing stress is bad for your overall health. It can impact everything from your blood pressure and heart health to your immune system and beyond. You might even be surprised to learn that stress can cause oral health problems. As such, finding ways to reduce your stress is essential for the health of your entire body. Breathing exercises can help relax your body, reducing the impact of stress and helping you maintain better overall health.
Breathing Exercise Eases Stress and Improves Wellness
Ever told yourself to take a deep breath when things get tense? There’s a reason for that. Deep breathing exercises help ensure full oxygen exchange can take place in your lungs.
When you exhale carbon dioxide-rich air and fill your lungs completely with oxygen, this sends a signal to your brain that you’re relaxed, even if you don’t feel that way yet. Breathing exercises also help to slow your heartbeat, stabilize your blood pressure, and slow any rapid breathing patterns.
Think of it like faking it until you make it. If you can mimic the way you breathe when you’re calm, you can trick your body into believing that you are. Once you learn how to use breathing exercises correctly, you can use them regularly to help manage stress and anxiety and improve your overall wellness.
Breathing Techniques to Try
To learn breathing techniques, it’s helpful to start by practicing simple deep breathing exercises to teach yourself how to fill your lungs properly and completely, rather than taking shallow breaths.
Also called diaphragmatic breathing, belly breathing is a deep breathing exercise that helps you learn to use your diaphragm correctly. Belly breathing is best practiced at first when you’re already relaxed because it can be tiring until you get the hang of it.
- Start by lying flat on the ground, knees slightly bent or supported by a pillow.
- Place one hand on your belly and one on your chest.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose, working to fill your lungs completely. You should see the hand on your belly rise, but not the hand on your chest.
- Breathe out through pursed lips, as though blowing out a candle, while tightening your abdominal muscles.
If you primarily feel your chest or shoulders moving when you breathe, you’re not allowing your lower lungs to fully expand. Work on moving only your belly. Practice this 3-10 times daily before moving on to the following breathing techniques.
Using similar breathing techniques to belly breathing, this breathing exercise can be done seated or lying down to help you relax.
- Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly.
- Inhale deeply and slowly into your belly for a count of 4.
- Hold that breath for a count of 7.
- Exhale, emptying your lungs completely for a count of 8.
- Repeat these steps 3-7 times until you feel relaxed and calm.
Coherent breathing, also called resonant breathing, is a breathing exercise that reduces stress, improves heart rate, and has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression when combined with Iyengar yoga.
- Inhale for a count of 5.
- Exhale for a count of 5.
- Repeat for several minutes until you feel calm.
Breath focus breathing technique
This breathing exercise combines a deep breathing exercise with relaxing imagery or words to guide focus. Choose an image or phrase that helps you feel calm, happy, neutral, or relaxed.
- Sit or lie down comfortably.
- Notice how you’re breathing naturally without making any changes yet.
- Alternate between normal breathing and deep breathing a few times, noticing the differences in the way your belly moves. Pay attention to how shallow your normal breathing may have been.
- Work on deep breathing for a few minutes, noticing how your belly rises and falls, and sighing during the exhale.
- Inhale and focus on your chosen phrase or image to help foster calm feelings. Imagine that relaxation entering your body with the air.
- As you exhale, imagine all of your anxiety, stress, and tension leaving your body.
At first, you can work on this deep breathing exercise for 10 minutes at a time, eventually building up to a 20-minute practice that can be used to ease stress.
When to Use Breathing Techniques
Breathing training can be used during times of anxiety, before or after stressful experiences, or anytime you find that you feel stress beginning to build up. If you’re feeling stressed at work, for example, or you’re anxious about a dental procedure, practicing breathing training can help you relax and manage your stress.
Consider establishing a regular routine for practicing your breathing techniques to help you manage continued stress and maintain your overall wellness. Set aside 10-20 minutes each day to devote to breathing training to create a positive habit and learn to create that sense of relaxation for yourself. Once you learn breathing techniques and practice them regularly, you’ll discover how powerful they can be for combatting stress in your life. This will benefit your health immediately and throughout your life.
Learn more about how stress impacts your body and how every aspect of your health is connected by reserving your copy of If Your Mouth Could Talk. Written by Dr. Kami Hoss—a dental expert, dentist, and dad—this book is the culmination of over 20 years of research and firsthand experience. Discover how taking care of your body and your oral health can impact your overall wellness.