Learning deep breathing techniques can reduce stress and improve your overall well-being with consistent practice.

We’ve all heard someone say “just take a deep breath” in a moment of stress. It turns out there’s some real science behind this cliché.

The physiological connections of deep, controlled breathing patterns are vast, from the autonomic nervous system to the cardiovascular system and beyond.

Many cultures around the world have used breathing strategies as a method of stress reduction and relaxation for centuries.

In traditional yoga, pranayama — which combines the Sanskrit words for “energy” and “control” — is the practice of regulating the breath to increase mindfulness and release tension.

Doctors now know the potential dangers of chronic psychological stress, ranging from physical ailments to mental disorders. That’s why mechanisms for reducing and managing stress — whether it’s from past trauma or the ups and downs of everyday life — are so important for our overall health.

There are essentially two different types of breathing:

  1. Diaphragmatic. This is deep, abdominal breathing that involves the diaphragm muscle, which pushes the stomach out and allows the lungs to fully fill with air.
  2. Thoracic. This is chest or shallow breathing — when breaths are short, rapid, and don’t engage the diaphragm. Thoracic breathing doesn’t allow your lungs to fill with air and can induce feelings of anxiety.

When we do deep breathing this is a form of diaphragmatic breathing. Research on breathing has shown its significant benefits for both psychological and physical well-being.

By triggering your body’s relaxation response, deep breathing can help:

  • improve mood
  • release tension and stress
  • reduce anxiety
  • increase focus
  • regulate sleep patterns
  • slow heart rate
  • lower cortisol levels
  • expand and strengthen lungs

The many benefits of deep breathing exercises are why they’re now often used to manage physical and mental conditions, such as:

A recent study found that slow guided breathing reduced blood pressure in patients with hypertension.

Research from 2017 even found that practicing diaphragmatic breathing could improve attention spans in adults.

The 4-7-8 technique is one of the most popular ways of practicing diaphragmatic breathing.

In addition to the many physical benefits of controlled breath, this method is great in times of high stress, anxiety, or sleeplessness. It can serve as a temporary mental distraction, allowing you to focus on something other than your racing thoughts.

Before you begin, find a comfortable seated position.

  1. With your tongue pressed against the back of your top teeth and lips parted, exhale completely with a whooshing sound.
  2. Close your lips and breath in through your nose for 4 seconds.
  3. Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
  4. Open your mouth and exhale for 8 seconds, again making a whooshing noise with your breath.

This ends one cycle. After finishing step 4 return immediately to step 1. If you can, complete 4 full cycles.

You may feel lightheaded or mildly dizzy the first time you try the 4-7-8 method. With practice and repetition, that discomfort should fade, and the relaxing effects should grow.

Also known as coherent breathing, this simple technique focuses on reducing breaths per minute from the average of 12 to 16 to just 5 or 6.

Research indicates that a rate of around 6 breaths per minute is optimal for lowering blood pressure, promoting relaxation, and strengthening your body’s ability to tolerate stress.

To practice resonance breathing:

  1. Sit in a comfortable, upright position.
  2. Inhale for 5 seconds.
  3. Exhale for 5 seconds.

Continue this cycle of breath for a few minutes, at least once a day. It may help to listen to soothing music or visualize a calming image while practicing.

If you have a respiratory condition or experience shortness of breath, pursed-lip breathing might be for you. Research indicates that this technique can help you regain control of your breathing and improve oxygenation. It can also be used for simple relaxation.

According to the Centers for Respiratory Health, the pursed-lip breathing technique can help people with later stages of emphysema release air trapped in the lungs.

To do pursed-lip breathing:

  1. Sit or lie down with your knees bent.
  2. With your mouth closed, breath in through your nose for 2 slow counts.
  3. Purse your lips as if giving a kiss or whistling.
  4. Breathe out through your pursed lips gently for 4 counts.

Consider repeating this cycle of breathing 3 to 10 times. You can try this technique up to 5 times a day.

This technique is so effective for relaxation that even Navy SEALs use it to release tension and deepen concentration.

It gets its name from its 4 equal-length steps, making this tool one of the easiest to remember.

To practice box breathing:

  1. Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds.
  2. Hold your breath for 4 seconds.
  3. Exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds.
  4. Hold your breath for 4 seconds.

Try repeating the box for 5 minutes, or as long as you feel comfortable. It can be practiced any time, any place.

Alternate nostril breathing has been found to reduce anxiety, improve focus, and reduce blood pressure. This technique is commonly used in yoga and meditation practices, but can also be done on its own.

Before beginning, sit comfortably in a quiet environment and close your eyes.

  1. Exhale completely.
  2. Use your right thumb to close your right nostril.
  3. Inhale slowly through your left nostril.
  4. Use your ring finger on your right hand to close your left nostril.
  5. Exhale completely through your right nostril.
  6. Keeping your left nostril closed, inhale through the right nostril.
  7. Use your thumb to close your right nostril and exhale through the left nostril.

Continue this cycle for up to 5 minutes.

Though alternative nostril breathing is safe for most people, talk with your doctor before starting if you have a respiratory or cardiac condition.

It’s easy to go days or even years without thinking about our breathing. It’s one of the few things we’ve known how to do since birth!

But just because we’re able to breathe without thinking about it doesn’t mean we always should.

Deep breathing is often most beneficial if you practice regularly. Try coming up with a routine every day with the exercises you find most effective. It doesn’t have to take up much time — even 10 minutes a day can make a difference.

For more info on breathing techniques and other tips for reducing stress, check out these articles: