Take a Deep Breath
Deep breathing (aka belly breathing, diaphragmatic breathing) is now well-known for its beneficial impact on symptoms of stress. There is a mountain of scientific evidence to suggest that taking deep, intentional breaths that manipulate the diaphragm effectively can reduce the symptoms of stress like elevated heart rate.
Acutely, breathing interventions appear effective for reducing feelings of anxiety or depression (Zaccaro et al., 2018; Hopper et al., 2019; Yau and Loke, 2021), and DBE is a reliable method of controlling panic attacks by countering hyperventilation, a common symptom in adults with panic disorder (Cowley and Roy-Byrne, 1987).”
(taken from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9877284)
If you are feeling temporary feelings of nervousness, worry, or chronic feelings of being overwhelmed or anxious, deep breathing can be a useful tool on its own or paired with other strategies to bring you back to a calm state.
However, the act of deep breathing may not come naturally to you, and you may find yourself needing specific methods of breath practice to help you engage in deep breathing. Here are some methods to develop and support your deep breath practice:
- Externalize cues to take intentional deep breaths daily. Put a post-it note on your bathroom mirror reminding you to breathe.
- Add visualization: Breathe in through your nose and imagine your chest inflating like a balloon; exhale through your mouth completely and imagine that balloon deflating.
- Add hand motions: Especially for children, adding arm and hand motions can further deepen the experience of taking deep breaths and make it more attractive to continue as a practice
- Shark (or crocodile) breaths: Put your palms together and rotate them to create a shark-like mouth (like the Baby Shark song). Breath in when hands are together and exhale when they are apart.
- Butterfly breathing: Bend arms at the elbow and raise hands to the rest gently on the temples. “Flap” arms gently and slowing in and out, breathing in as you bring arms in and out as you expand out to the sides.
- Use an object: Get a Hoberman ball (https://a.co/d/6qIrP4X) and use it to guide your breath, pulling it gently out to expand on your exhale, contracting it on your inhale. Or use a soft stress ball or pillow to squeeze gently when you inhale, expand when you exhale.
- A more complex, but easy strategy is called “Five Finger Breathing” that marries breathe practice with tactile motions using one’s hand. Check out the full tutorial here: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/five-finger-breathing/
Deep breath practice is a simple way to deepen your connection with your body and learn how to lower stress in the moment. Using tools or strategies such as the ones listed above can make that process even easier.
-Erin Klein L.C.P.C.