Simple breathing techniques for anxiety and stress

Blue Tree’s intern and aspiring psychologist Alexis Baker suggests some breathing techniques to help maintain a sense of calm……

Everyone has experienced stress or anxiety at some point in their lives, feelings such as increased heart rate, restlessness, sweating, and perhaps even problems with sleeping or nausea. During these times of high emotion, our mind adopts a ‘fight or flight’ response, triggering the bodily sensations that we experience. This can reinforce feelings of stress and anxiety even further, forming a cycle. Whilst this is occurring, we naturally adopt quick, shallow breaths and so focusing on and taking control of your breathing can be a simple way to disrupt this cycle and help you to find a sense of calm.

Breathwork is originally derived from various ancient spiritual and cultural traditions around the world, particularly through meditative relaxation and eastern traditions. However, as with mindfulness in general, it has shown to help a variety of people gain better awareness and control of their emotions, such as those struggling with physical pain, addiction, and emotional distress. However, breathing exercises do not have to be a daunting activity requiring years of experience and a mental health diagnosis. There are many techniques that are easy to implement into anyone’s everyday life for a calmer state of mind.

Here are 3 simple but effective techniques you can try, either at the start of every morning or multiple times a day whenever you feel that you need it:

  • The 10/10 method

This method involves breathing in for 10 counts and then breathing out for 10 counts. While this may seem overly obvious and simple, there are features to this technique that make it really effective. Firstly, try to allow small amounts of air into your lungs slowly, as if you are breathing through a thin cocktail straw, until you’ve reached 10 counts, and then let it out in the same way. This allows you to breathe in a controlled and deep manner, forcing your body to slow down. If you feel comfortable, really embrace the sound of you breathing out loud as the air flows in and out your lungs. Being able to hear your breathing slow down as well as feel it will enhance the experience. Lastly, by focusing you mind on counting, you are putting your attention onto a calm, consistent, and reliable task rather than what is causing you stress and anxiety. You may find it easier to close your eyes as you do this to encourage you to focus in on the counts rather than your surrounding environment.

  • Belly and chest breathing

This technique uses similar tools as the 10/10 method just in a different way. You will also need to take in slightly larger amounts of air but keep them slow and steady. Start by placing one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. As you take a big breath in (for as long as it feels comfortable) focus your mind on filling your lungs. You should feel your chest rise with your hand. Then as you breathe out, feel you hand lower down as your chest falls. Take your next deep breath in and this time, focus your attention on filling your belly with air, and feel your hand on you belly rise accordingly. Then let the air out and feel your hand lower. Continue to alternate between breathing into your chest and then your belly, allowing your mind to focus on the rise and fall of each of your hands as you do so. You may find this easier to do when lying down so you can really feel the rise and fall of your body. Once again, this technique should help your mind focus on a calm and consistent task.

  • Humming bee breathing

Once again this technique is simple and easy to do but can really help you feel like you are in a safe and calm bubble. It is called the humming bee method because of the gentle humming sound you create at the back of your throat that sounds like a bumble bee. This works best if you can sit cross legged on the floor if possible. Close each ear with the thumbs, place the index fingers at the midpoint of the forehead – just above the eyebrows – and reach the middle, ring, and pinkie fingers across the eyes. Make sure that your elbows are at shoulder level. Now, breathe in slow and deep, and let the air flow into your belly for 6 counts and as you breathe out of your nose, make a humming noise. Enjoy the vibrating sensation and embrace the feeling of being enclosed in a safe space. You can repeat this as many times as you like and when you’re finished, take your time opening your eyes.

These techniques will only take you a couple of minutes to do, making them an easy tool to use throughout your day whenever you feel highly anxious or stressed. If you feel nervous about performing these in public, consider ways you can adapt them to make you feel more comfortable, such as not making any noise during the 10/10 method. In todays fast-paced society, it is normal to easily become stressed or anxious in certain situations, and small easy tools such as these can be really helpful. However, remember that if you feel constantly anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed and it is starting to negatively impact you and your life, consider seeking the help of a professional. It may be that you simply require more specialised support to help you feeling yourself again. Here at the Blue Tree Clinic, we have dedicated therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists who are able to provide you with this support (via skype or over the phone), no matter how big or small your struggles are.