Deep Breathing to Counteract Stress

Published by Annie Barrett: 
September 27, 2022

When you are confronted with a stressful situation, your body reacts as though you are under attack. Your breath starts to race, your heart starts to pound, you sweat and adrenaline is pumped through your body. This is your body's fight-or-flight response or sympathetic nervous system in action. Even if you aren't being chased by a tiger or bear (and most of the time we aren't!), your body reacts as though you are.

When this happens, you can employ deep breathing to counteract the stress response. When you breathe deeply, you switch on your body's parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the rest-and-digest system. Your body takes in  more oxygen, your heart rate slows, your muscles become less tense, your thoughts stop racing, and you can better access the part of your brain that is designed and equipped to make good decisions. Deep breathing can also lower your blood pressure, ease pain, and even help you fall asleep.

Bringing your awareness to your breath connects you to the present moment and is a wonderful way to center yourself no matter the circumstance.

Deep Breathing Practice
This is a simple deep breathing practice in which you make the exhalation slightly longer than the inhalation. The longer exhale is the key to switching on the body's relaxation response.

  • Sit or lie down.
  • Breathe in through your nose for 4 counts.
  • Pause and hold your breath for 2 counts.
  • Breathe out through your nose for 6 counts.
  • Repeat

You may try this practice for several rounds once or twice a day or any time you need a little calm.