Just breathe: Six simple steps to less stress

One of the simplest ways to soothe stress is to just breathe. In fact, it’s so simple that it’s easy to dismiss it as a strategy. Something that easy can’t really work, can it? Yes it can.

Even though you probably don’t notice it when you’re feeling especially stressed or anxious (because, duh, you’re preoccupied with feeling stressed or anxious), when you are in the grips of the “stress response,” your body tenses up and your breathing becomes shallow. Deep breathing is one of the best ways to counteract this response because is sends a message to your brain to relax. Your brain responds by sending a message to your body to slow your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and unwind some of the tension your muscles have been holding.

Whenever you notice that stress has you in its grips, take a few minutes (five or 10 is ideal, but anything is better than nothing!) to practice this simple breathing exercise:

  1. Find a quiet, comfortable space where you will not be interrupted.
  2. Sit with your back straight and close your eyes.
  3. Quietly inhale through your nose. As your chest rises with your breath, say to yourself, “rising.”
  4. Exhale completely through your mouth to the count of six. As your chest falls, say to yourself, “falling.”
  5. Continue to inhale and exhale as described, saying “rising” and “falling” to yourself.
  6. If your mind wanders (and it will), simply label the thought and return to your breathing. (For example, if thoughts about a work project pop up, say to yourself, “work,” then return to your breath.)

If you need more robust tools for dealing with stress, I recommend the book “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagoski. I’ve recommended it to many of my private practice clients, and they call it a game-changer.