Deep breathing can help reduce stress and anxiety, or simply calm you when you are feeling overwhelmed. To do it properly, however, you can’t just start sucking wind.
When we are feeling stressed or anxious, the body will typically go into fight-or-flight mode – elevated heartbeat, tense muscles, shallow breath. By changing our breathing, we can change everything else about the fight-or-flight response.
Deep breathing "cuts that circuit,” says Stephanie Phan, an occupational therapist who teaches deep breathing at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto. “It helps the system to relax.”
Heart rates will lower and so, too, will blood pressure within just a few minutes of deep breathing.
The proper technique is simple enough. Find a comfortable position – it could be sitting on a chair or lying on your back – in a quiet place where you can focus free of noise or distraction, Phan says.
Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. “This is just to give them feedback as they breathe in,” Phan says. Take a deep, slow breath in through your nose. Imagine you’re smelling a beautiful flower, Phan says. As you breathe in, you’ll feel your hand rise with your stomach, which will swell like a balloon being inflated.
Breathe out through pursed lips as if you were blowing out a lot of candles on a cake. “You have to do a slow, full exhale out,” Phan says.
Beginners should try to do it for just two or three minutes, Phan says.
You can practise at any time, whether it’s waiting at a red light or between meetings.
Phan recommends doing it even when you aren’t stressed or overwhelmed to promote a sense of well-being throughout the day.
“Whenever we are breathing we can harness the power of the breathe."