Try These 6 Breathing Exercises the Moment You Feel Overwhelmed

Updated 05/07/19
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Breath is the one constant you can count on. As long as you're living, your breath is with you, serving as an indicator of how you're feeling both mentally and physically. "Your breathing is a great barometer of the shifting weather of your thoughts and feelings and can be an incredibly versatile tool to intentionally calm your nervous system, develop focus and attention, and deepen your connection to your body," says Jamie Price, wellness expert and founder of the meditation app Stop, Breathe & Think.

You've likely heard of your fight-or-flight response, a term for when the sympathetic nervous system is activated. According to Price, this is helpful in a life-threatening situation, but when this stress response activates too often, you can feel physically and mentally exhausted. One of the most effective ways to manage stress is to activate your rest-and-digest response in the parasympathetic nervous system. This will slow down your heart rate, blood pressure, and metabolism, leaving you feeling relaxed and safe, Price explains.

So how do you activate this feel-good response? Breathe. Next time you feel overwhelmed and your body kicks into fight-or-flight mode, try one of Price's breathing exercises for stress that you can do anytime, anywhere.

The Basics

1. Find a comfortable posture. Whether you are sitting, standing, or laying down, try to keep a straight back. If you're sitting, imagine a string is attached to the top of your head, pulling your spine straight. An upright posture will enable your breathing to be more relaxed and natural, and you'll be able to use your full lung capacity.

2. Breathe in through your nose to warm and filter the air so it's easier on your lungs.

3.Timing is everything. If you are doing a controlled breathing technique, pick a length for your inhale and exhale that is comfortable. If you begin to feel light-headed, out of breath, or dizzy, just go back to breathing at your normal pace.

4. Breathe for as long as is comfortable for you.

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Deep Breathing

1. Place one hand just below your belly button and the other on your chest.

2. Inhale slowly through your nose as you gently push your belly out.

3. Pause.

4. Slowly exhale through your mouth as you gently pull your belly in.

Continue breathing this way for a few minutes, maintaining a relaxed and slow pace that feels natural to you.

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4:7:8 Breathing

1. Bring your attention to your inhale and exhale.

2. Let your breath flow naturally.

3. Begin to make your exhale a little longer than your inhale.

4. Breathe in for a count of four.

5. Hold the breath for a count of seven.

6. Breathe out for a count of eight.

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2:4 Breathing

1. Let your breath flow naturally.

2. Count the length of your inhale.

3. As you continue to breathe, make your exhale twice as long as your inhale.

For example, if you breathe in for a count of four, then breathe out for a count of eight.

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Mindful Breathing

1. Take a few deep breaths and notice how your body feels.

2. Notice where you feel your breath most in your body.

3. Settle into a relaxed focus as you follow the sensation of each inhale and exhale.

4. When you notice that your mind has wandered, gently redirect your attention back to the sensation of your inhale and exhale.

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Counting Breaths

1. Let your breath have a natural and relaxed flow. You don't need to control it in any way.

2. As you breathe, make a mental count of each breath—the inhalation and exhalation.

3. When you reach a count of ten, start at one again.

4. When you notice you are thinking about something else, just go right back to one and start over.

Make sure you are following your breath and applying your count to it. Keep your awareness on the physical sensation of breathing, rather than counting in the background while your attention wanders.

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"Any mindfulness practice, including focusing on your breath, will be more effective the more you do it," says Price. Try incorporating these breathing exercises for stress into your daily routine to get the most out of the practice. Price suggests simply practicing for a few minutes when you first wake up each day. "Intentionally connecting to your breath at the beginning of each day can help you remember to connect with your breath during stressful situations."

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