Breathing is essential to life, and it's something that our brain generally takes care of without our awareness. But it is also something that we can control and use to reduce our stress.
How can you master your breathing and use it as a stress reduction tool? Here are a couple tips:
For focus and attention, in addition to stress reduction, try box breathing. It’s a technique that the Navy Seals use. Inhale for a count of 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4, and hold again for 4 (see, it’s a 4-4-4-4 box). Repeat for up to 5 minutes, depending on your stress level. This will help you slow down, focus, and be mindful of your environment.
On the holds, don’t clamp down. Think about holding your breath lightly. Also, these are counts not seconds—count a little slower or faster depending on your comfort level but keep the ratio of the “box” the same.
For increased relaxation, make your exhales longer than your inhales. This will engage your “rest and digest”—rather than “fight or flight”—nervous system. A couple techniques you can try are are 4-8 and 4-7-8 breathing.
With 4-8, inhale for a count of 4 and exhale for 8. For 4-7-8, add a 7-count hold between your inhale and exhale. Remember to hold lightly rather than clamping down. If these breathing counts are too long, you can shorten them but keep the ratio (e.g., 3-6 is the same 2-to-1 ratio as 4-8).
Try starting with four cycles. If you need further stress reduction repeat for another four cycles until you feel relaxed.
For maximal relaxation, breath through your nose and exhale through your mouth. As with all exercises, do what’s comfortable. If you feel light headed or have trouble breathing, go back to your normal breathing pattern.