6 Breathing Therapy Exercises for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Relief

How Therapeutic Breathing Might Help with Depression and Stress?

When you are feeling tense and your mood is low, your breathing probably will be very shallow and constricted. Shallow breathing can invoke an emotional imbalance. Shallow breathing causes an inadequate supply of oxygen in the blood. Deep breathing will allow you to substantially increase the oxygen supply to your body and brain.

By deepening your breath and keeping the rhythm consistent, you increase the amount of oxygen that is reaching your lungs, blood, organs, and cells. This oxygen, of course, is vital for your physiological systems to operate properly. Deep breathing also relaxes your body and mind so that you can examine your negative thoughts and replace them with more positive ones.

Some of the most popular, healthy breathing practices stem from tai chi, qi gong and yoga. But care should be taken when performing deep breathing exercises, as doing deep-breathing exercises in an incorrect manner can have adverse effects on the body.

Generally, most of us breathe in an improper way and we get used to shallow breathing. This is harmful for the health as carbon dioxide may be ejected too quickly and the nervous system be over-stimulated. Kind of like have your car engine run at 5,000-10,000 revolutions per minute while standing a stop sign. When the slower, deeper, more relaxed breathing works in a smooth and flowing manner, it superbly affects the respiratory system as well as the nervous system and triggers the reflexive breathing’s relaxation response (also known as the parasympathetic response) bringing more calm and potential tranquility to life.

Under extreme or long-term conditions of anxiety and nervousness, the sympathetic nervous system can be harmed. Most of us don’t know that persistent stress results in a depletion of nutrients and brings in mental instability. Here, the parasympathetic nervous system comes to the rescue and helps neutralize this harmful mechanism. Through the practice of these deep breathing exercises, the nervous system can be brought into balance in a timelier manner.

Most of us fail to follow our commitment toward exercising and following other healthy routines. But one thing that can easily be put into practice is breathing deeply and repeatedly. Make it a point to incorporate deep but grounded breaths in your regular routines. It has even been proven scientifically that doing proper deep breathing exercises is capable of managing depression, blood pressure stress, nervousness, and trauma recovery. It has been noted often that when these properly balanced deep-breathing techniques were incorporated with traditional medical treatments, these treatments worked more effectively.

When a person does not have a healthy breathing pattern, they either do not take in enough oxygen or do not expel enough carbon dioxide; or they shallow breathe and try to compensate by high-chest breathing that invites vasoconstriction and keeps the CO2 levels too low. These in turn lead to mental fog, exhaustion, and diminished tissue function.

Register your Breathe

Before you can address your breathing habits, you need to become aware of them. Stop and take a moment to listen and observe your breathing. Are you taking long, slow breaths? Or, are you breathing in a short and almost rushed manner? Do you breathe mostly in the upper part of your chest, or does your belly move in a deep rhythmical motion with each breath?

When our breathing is short and shallow in nature, and mostly located in the upper part of our chest, it's the type of breathe associated with the fight or flight response. When we breathe in this way, we are inadvertently signaling to our body that it is being threatened. And, the natural response of the body to such stimuli is to increase stress and anxiety levels.

Breathing Exercises

There are multiple researches and approaches on how to let your breathing to improve your mood, release your stress and anxiety, and allow functioning better in daily life. We will provide several examples of the exercises, which are easy to follow and do not require special knowledge, techniques, or physical training. Read each description carefully, and note all the requirements to the fine details. Try to follow the guidelines as close as possible for best results. Be patient, and do not expect magic results immediately, as your body might need time to accept the instructions. Be patient and persistent, and you will definitely see positive results in your well-being.

Exercise 1: To become aware of your breathing pattern

The following exercise will enable you to become more aware of your own breathing pattern:
1. Lie on the floor in a corpse pose in a quiet place. Lie down on your back with your legs straight and slightly apart, your arms at your sides and not touching your body, palms up, and eyes closed.
2. Focus your attention on your breathing.
3. Place your hand on your body where it rises and falls. If this spot is on your chest, your breathing is too shallow and you're not fully using your lungs.
4. Place your hands on your abdomen and feel how it rises and falls. Does your chest move with your abdomen? If not, focus on allowing them to rise and fall together.
5. Concentrate on breathing deeply through your nose, filling your entire lungs so that your chest and abdomen rise and fall with each breath.
6. As you breathe, check your body for tension. If you discover any part of your body under tension, concentrate on those tight or rigid muscles and let the tension flow away.
By practicing this exercise, you will become more aware of your breathing patterns and habits.

Exercise 2: To deepen your breathing

1. Lie down on the floor with your knees bent and feet apart. Your back should be flat on the floor.
2. Mentally examine each part of your body. Is there any tension in any part of your body? If yes, let it flow away.
3. Rest one hand on your stomach and the other hand on your chest.
4. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, taking the breath into your stomach so that your hand feels it rise. Your chest should move slightly along with your abdomen.
5. Practice step 4 until it feels comfortable to be breathing air into your abdomen. Once you achieve this comfort, inhale deeply and then blow the air out gently through your mouth.
6. Deep-breathe for five to ten minutes once or twice each day. 

After you have become comfortable with this technique, you can practice the exercise for up to twenty minutes at a time, whenever you feel the need to relax and focus your energy.

Exercise 3: To combat depression

A simple, effective technique for combating mild depression is to increase the depth of your breathing. Close your eyes and focus your full attention on breathing deeply. This relaxes your body and will open your mind to experience positive thoughts and creative images. If you increase the depth of your breath so that you are taking no more than four breaths a minute, within five minutes this exercise will change the way you feel. Try it.

Exercise 4: To let go of your depression and feel energized

This exercise lets you to get rid of your depression and feel energized.
1. Sit on a chair with your back straight and feet flat on the floor.
2. Reach straight up with both hands.
3. Inhale deeply. Hold your breath and while holding your breath, squeeze your fists so that the muscles in your arms tighten.
4. Exhale slowly. Keeping your arms tense, lower your fists to your chest, as if you're pulling down on rubber bands.
5. Repeat steps 2 and 3 a few times.
6. On the final repetition, cross your arms over your chest. Rest your fingers on the upper outside spots of your chest, with your wrists crossed in the middle.
7. Drop your chin to your chest.
8. Inhale four short breaths without exhaling.
9. Hold your breath.
10. Exhale slowly through your mouth.

Repeat steps 8-10 for a few minutes, concentrating on the rhythm of your breath.

Exercise 5: To relieve anxiety

This is a skill that must be practiced.  Try this daily for 10-20 minutes as well as during periods of anxiety.
1.   Place one hand on your upper abdomen, right below your right cage.
2.   Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose into the “bottom” of your lungs.
3.   Pause for a moment, and then exhale slowly.
4.   Take 10 slow abdominal breaths, keeping your breaths smooth and regular. It may help to slow your breathing by counting to four (1 – 2 – 3 – 4) as you exhale. Pause briefly at the end of each inhalation and exhalation.  If you begin to feel lightheaded, take a 20 second break before resuming your breathing exercise.
5.   Five minutes of abdominal breathing done correctly will have a profound effect on reducing anxiety and early symptoms of panic.

Exercise 6: To relax and relieve your stress

The following exercise requires a partner and is effective in relaxing and energizing you.
1.      Lie on your back. Have your partner put one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest.
2.      Inhale and exhale as in deep, relaxed breathing, but each inhale is taken in two stages abdomen, then chest. Imagine that you are breathing into your partner's hand as you fill your belly with air. When your abdomen feels full, continue breathing into your chest. Watch your partner's hands as it rises.
3.      Exhale fully through the chest and belly simultaneously.
4.      Repeat. It is important to keep a rhythmic rolling effect between abdomen and chest. Breathe at your natural pace, however.

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