Meditation How to Reduce Stress With Breathing Exercises By Elizabeth Scott, PhD Elizabeth Scott, PhD Twitter Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing. Learn about our editorial process Updated on July 01, 2020 Reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by mental health professionals. Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Megan Monahan Reviewed by Megan Monahan Megan Monahan is a certified meditation instructor and has studied under Dr. Deepak Chopra. She is also the author of the book, Don't Hate, Meditate. Learn about our Review Board Print bgfoto/ Getty Images Breathing exercises offer an extremely simple, effective, and convenient way to relieve stress and reverse your stress response, reducing the negative effects of chronic stress. There are definite benefits of breathing exercises. While simple diaphragmic breathing can provide relaxation and stress relief, there are several different types of breathing exercises to try, each with its own twist. Here are several breathing exercises, some of which are commonly recommended, some of which are unique, and all of which can each offer help in managing stress. This is an easy exercise that only takes a few minutes. Here's how. Mindful Diaphragmic Breathing Get into a comfortable position, close your eyes, and start to notice your breath. Before you begin to alter it, pay attention to the pace and depth. Are you taking deep breaths or shallow ones? Are you breathing quickly or slowly? (Becoming aware of your breathing can help you to become more mindful of your body's response to stress, and can help you to notice when you need to deliberately relax your breathing.) A Quick and Simple 5-Minute Meditation Counted Breathing Counting your breaths can be helpful, both for pacing and as a form of meditation. This technique helps with pacing—it enables you to elongate your breath and stretch out your exhales. There are a few ways to do this. As you inhale, place your tongue on the roof of your mouth right behind your teeth, then breathe through your nose and slowly count down from five; on the exhale, let the air escape through your mouth and count back up to eight. Then repeat. This helps you to really empty your lungs and relax into each breath.A variation of this is known as "4-7-8 breathing," and is recommended by wellness expert Dr. Andrew Weil. With this option, you inhale for a count of four, wait for a count of seven, and exhale for a count of eight. This allows you to pause between breaths and really slow things down. When you're first starting out, practice 4-7-8 breathing for four breaths, and then gradually work your way up to eight full breaths. Set Your Own Pace Experiment with whatever ratio feels comfortable to you, and see if it helps you to feel relaxed. The act of counting as you breathe still helps you to maintain a steady pace and keep your mind on your breath and the present moment, so it is still more effective than simply breathing regularly and unconsciously. Visualization Breathing: Inflating the Balloon Get into a comfortable position, close your eyes, and begin breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. As you inhale, imagine that your abdomen is inflating with air like a balloon. As you exhale, imagine that the air is escaping the balloon slowly. Remember, you do not have to force the air out; it simply escapes on its own, in its own time. You may want to imagine the balloon as your favorite color, or that you are floating higher in the sky with each breath if this is relaxing for you. Regardless, the "inflating balloon" visualization can help you to breathe deeply from your diaphragm rather than engaging in shallow breathing that can come from stress. Visualization Breathing: Releasing Your Stress Get into a comfortable position, close your eyes, and start diaphragmic breathing. As you inhale, imagine that all the stress in your body is coming from your extremities and into your chest. Then, as you exhale, imagine that the stress is leaving your body through your breath and dissipating right in front of you. Slowly, deliberately repeat the process. After several breaths, you should feel your stress begin to subside. Use Guided Imagery For Relaxation Deep, Cleansing Breath Sometimes all you need to release stress from your shoulders, back, or the rest of your body is a few big, cleansing breaths. Breathe in deeply through your nose, and take in as much air as you comfortably can. Then release it, and really focus on emptying your lungs. (Many people hold air in their lungs after an exhale, so emptying your lungs on a deep exhale can help you to get more fresh oxygen into them.) Repeat this breathing exercise for a few breaths and release the tension in your back, your shoulders, and anywhere else it tends to reside. Alternate Nostril Breathing This breathing exercise variation has been practiced for thousands of years as a form of meditative breathing. As you inhale, place your finger over your right nostril and only breathe through your left. On the exhale, switch nostrils and only breathe through your right. You can breathe at whatever pace is comfortable for you, either a 5-8 ratio, a 4-7-8 ratio or whatever pace feels most relaxing for you (see "counted breathing," above). Repeat this exercise for up to five minutes. Explore More Options There are numerous other ways to practice breathing exercises, but these are some of the most popular and effective. Experiment and see which work best for you. 18 Effective Stress Relief Strategies 4 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Jerath R, Crawford MW, Barnes VA et al. Self-Regulation of Breathing as a Primary Treatment for Anxiety. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback. 2015;40(2):107–115. doi:10.1007/s10484-015-9279-8 Hopper SI, Murray SL, Ferrara LR, Singleton JK. Effectiveness of diaphragmatic breathing on physiological and psychological stress in adults: a quantitative systematic review protocol. JBI Database System Rev Implement Rep. 2018;16(6):1367-1372. doi:10.11124/JBISRIR-2017-003477 Vlemincx E, Van diest I, Van den bergh O. A sigh of relief or a sigh to relieve: The psychological and physiological relief effect of deep breaths. Physiol Behav. 2016;165:127-135. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2016.07.004 Telles S, Gupta RK, Yadav A, Pathak S, Balkrishna A. Hemisphere specific EEG related to alternate nostril yoga breathing. BMC Res Notes. 2017;10(1):306. doi:10.1186/s13104-017-2625-6 Additional Reading Fulton, O. Just relax and concentrate on your breathing. BMJ 2015;351:h6185. doi:10.1136/bmj.h6185 By Elizabeth Scott, PhD Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.