Deep Breathing Exercise for Stress and Anxiety

Inhale. Hold. Exhale

Stress is a natural part of life, and therefore inevitable. In fact, stress, plays an important role in getting things done, making us more productive.

But being stressed constantly and chronically does not get anyone anything other than diabetes. In fact, it's one of the major causes of poor-health and health-related issues. Therefore it's essential to control your stress. But I know it's easy to say than done.

So, how can you take control of the situation?

First of all, identify the signs of stress. Identifying the signs of stress is very important in order to motivate yourself to take steps to relieve your stress level.

Next, stressed or not, practice deep breathing everyday. Breathing is such a great natural stress reliever that we are blessed with. Use it!


This post is going to answer to that question.

Related: 8 Common Signs of Stress on Your Body

What Happens When You Are Stressed or Anxious?

When we are stressed, our body releases the stress hormones: cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol is responsible for the short and long-term negative effects of stress on our body, whereas adrenaline is responsible for the initiation of the "fight or flight" response.

The release of adrenaline in our circulation leads to a rise in blood pressure, heart rate and breathing. Our muscles get tensed and other physiological processes activate making us extra-attentive, and  more prepared to face a dangerous situation.

Because of these signs produced due to the effect of adrenaline, our brain knows that we are stressed and anxious.

Since our breathing gets faster, proper depth of breathing can't be reached and our breaths get shallow.

So, breathing during stress is fast, short and shallower. Therefore, our brain perceives "fast and shallow" breathing as an indicator of stress.

Here's How Breathing Pattern is Processed in Our Brain:

Researchers have found a set of "spying" neurons located in our brainstem that keeps an eye on our breathing pattern. This set of neurons is called the Pre-Botzinger complex.

This is the complex of neurons that connects our respiratory center and the emotion center, forming a connection between our emotions and our breathing pattern.

As mentioned earlier, it acts as a spy. This means that it does not directly cause the change in breathing or initiation of the stress response. Rather, it reports to the rest of the brain about the change in the breathing pattern.

So, whenever there is a change in our breathing pattern, say fast and shallow, this complex reports to the rest of our brain that the breathing pattern has changed to fast and shallow, and the rest of the brain perceives it as a stressful situation since that is what our brain has evolved to think.

How Does Deep Breathing Relieves Stress

Deep breathing helps get rid of this fast and shallow breathing pattern.

It creates an environment similar to normal breathing when we are not stressed. This makes our brain realize that the danger no longer exists.

So when we start taking deep breathes, the Pre-Botzinger complex picks up the change in our breathing pattern and reports back to the rest of the brain about the calm breathing, and our brain responds by proceeding to calm the "fight-or-flight" response down.

So this way breathing changes our consciousness from a stressed state to calm state, by basically fooling our brain.

Studies have also shown that deep breathing decreases the level of stress hormone in the circulation; further promoting calm.

Deep breathing is now prescribed by many practitioners as a part of their treatment regime to help relieve symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, and trauma.

Related: 7 Easiest Science-Backed Ways to De-Stress

Abdominal Breathing Technique:

Set Up The Mood:

Before starting the process it's good to create a suitable environment to practice deep breathing. You can consider it as a form of meditation. So:
  1. Sit alone in a room. Lock the door if necessary, and tell other's in the home to not disturb you for 10 minutes. Put your phone in silent, switch off your TV. You don't want any distractions as you will need your energy focused on your breathing pattern.
  2. Wear comfortable clothing. You don't want any clothing constricting and tensing your body. 
  3. You can either sit down or lie down. I prefer to lie down because that helps me check my abdominal motions better (you'll see why, in a bit). Use a mat or your bed; works either way.
  4. You can go fancier depending on your preferences, like dimming the lights or lighting up some scented candles or aroma diffuser. These are not a must, but you can add them if these help you relax.
  5. It's a great idea to practice breathing exercise at the same time every day, and let your body set up the natural clock. Add it in your schedule so that you don't end up skipping.

Here's How You Should Breathe:

Nature has provided us with a specific muscle for breathing, and that is the diaphragm. Natural breathing is diaphragmatic breathing.

Proper usage of the diaphragm is indicated by the expansion of the abdomen, and so the expansion of your abdomen should be more than your chest, not the other way round, which unfortunately most of us do.

But no worries, you can learn to breath normally.
  1. Lie down comfortably, and let the mood set it.
  2. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.
  3. Start with an exhale.
  4. Then take a slow, deep breathe in. Inhale for a few seconds.
  5. Then hold your breath for a few seconds.
  6. Then slowly start exhaling, for a few seconds. Make sure that exhaling is twice as long as the inhaling.
  7. When you are breathing, note the movement of your hands. Your hand over your abdomen should go higher than your hand over your chest. This is something that may require some extra efforts and concentration to do especially in the initial days of practice.
  8. You can also repeat the word "peace" with each exhale if you are doing this for meditation purpose.

Remember: expiration should be longer than inspiration, and there should be a brief period of holding breath.

To help you with this, you can use the 4-7-8 method: Inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 and then exhale for 8 seconds.

People who are anxious might find it difficult to control their breath, but remember that's okay, and just keep on practicing. This is the purpose of practicing every day; so that you can master this technique and use it well when you need it the most.

Related: Vertical Vs Horizontal Breathing: Did You Know You're Breathing Incorrectly?

The Ideal Time of The Day To Practice Deep Breathing

So, is there an ideal time for practicing breathing?

Yes, and no.

No, because the time when you practice deep breathing will not affect the efficacy of the process. The results will be the same, no matter when you do.

And yes, because you can modify or choose to perform this practice depending upon your schedule or your problems/requirements.

For example:
  1. If you are someone who can only take out time in the morning hours, you should do it in the morning.
  2. If you are someone who gets anxious early in the morning by the thought of all the work you have to get done, you should do it in the morning.
  3. If you are someone who has difficulty falling asleep, you should do it at night time, before bed.
  4. Apart from your routine scheduled practice, you can perform deep breathing when you are having an episode of anxiety or stress, or if you are finding it difficult to fall asleep on a particular day, when you are having difficulty in concentration, and even when you are having food cravings.
  5. If you are someone who is quite often very anxious, it's best you do it twice a day.

So really it's just all about your requirements. Setting a particular time each day will ensure that you perform it once a day every day. Doing at a set time will help you make it a habit.


It's important that you take care of yourself, and self-care in the modern world starts from managing your stress levels. We are all blessed with a natural mechanism to deal with our stress and anxiety. So why not take advantage of it?

Following a simple routine that includes 10-minutes, breathing exercise will do great benefit to your health and wellness.

Set up a time, set up the mood, and follow the easy steps of deep breathing. You may find it difficult to follow in the beginning but with practice, you can achieve a healthy breathing pattern that will always keep your body in the calm state.

Inhale. Hold. Exhale.

Deep breaths are like little love notes to your body.
- Unknown

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© Quirky Writes 2018


  1. Ooh these are so handy! I’ve really been getting into breathing exercises and mindfulness lately so will try these! Thanks for sharing. Clare xx |

    1. Thank you! Yeah, you should give this a try. It's really effective.

  2. This is a great post! Another breathing technique I really like practicing is alternate nostril breathing! It's wonderful & is very calming!

    -Madi xo

    1. Yes, that's from yoga. That's a post for another day. :) Thank you for stopping by!

  3. I love this post. Thank you for giving the science behind stress and what it does to our bodies. I've found breathing to be one of the most effective techniques for anxiety. I'm definitely going to use your tips!

    1. Thank you! I'm glad you found it helpful! For sure try it out. :)

  4. Thanks for the post. I so appreciated the thoroughness of what you had to say. Thanks for the instructions. I will remember 4-7-8.

    1. Yeah, that's a great method to help make sure your expiration is longer and that you hold breath for a bit as well. Thanks for stopping by! :)

  5. Inhale. Hold. Exhale. Lovely tips here.


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