How to Relieve Stress: Breathing Exercises You Can Do Anywhere

Did you know that slowing our breathing helps us calm down, and that taking a few minutes to do breathing exercises can help relax our mind and bodies — making it easier for us to cope with stress and anxiety? It’s actually scientifically proven that breathing not only helps calm us down, but also makes it easier to access and use what we have learned, such as information we have studied for an exam. We also know that continued shallow breathing can actually do the opposite, keeping our bodies in a cycle of stress and affecting everything from our mental to physical health. When we are stressed, we tend to close down in a number of ways and, while this can feel protective, it often deprives us of needed emotional, cognitive and physical resources. It can even make us more likely to get sick.

Here are some simple breathing exercises you can do to relieve stress anywhere and anytime. Try using them daily, whether you are clearly feeling stressed or not. Breathing fully, whether you are stressed or not, is great for your body and mind. It is also easier to use breathing techniques whenever you feel impatient or frustrated (like waiting in line), or in moments when you feel uptight, overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious if you have practiced when you are not stressed.

The Box Breath Technique

This technique is named for the 4-sided approach in which each “side” or step is the same amount of time, as if you were visually creating a box with your breath.

  1. Exhale all the air from your lungs while counting to four.
  2. Hold for a count of four, keeping your lungs completely empty.
  3. Inhale a deep, full breath for a count of four.
  4. Keep your lungs full for a count of four.
  5. Do this for at least four rounds and reduce the number of rounds if you start to feel light headed.

For visual learners, this video can act as a helpful guide for the Box Breath technique. Exhale when the flower expands. Hold when the flower is still. Inhale when the flower contracts. Repeat as needed.

4-7-8 Relaxing Breath

Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Your eyes can be slightly opened or fully closed. Press the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth and open your mouth slightly. Exhale until all the air is released from your lungs.

  1. Close your mouth and inhale through your nose for 4 – 8 counts (you can work up to 8 counts as your lung capacity increases).
  2. Hold your breath for 7 counts.
  3. Exhale very slowly for 8 counts.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 four times.

Additional Resources and Techniques

If Jewel can do it, so can you. The Grammy-Winning singer walks you through two mindful breathing techniques that she uses in her routine.

The app Headspace is another great tool for breathing on the go. This video offers a one-minute exercise you can do anywhere.

Getting Additional Support

These are just a few breathing techniques we find helpful but they aren’t always enough. If you’re struggling with your stress or anxiety levels, consider talking to a therapist about how you can create a routine of coping strategies that work for you. And if you or someone you know needs help immediately, Text “START” to 741-741 or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.