Stress Management Skills in Under 10 Minutes: Breathing

By Amy Brightman, LCSW

Life puts several demands on us and when we wear a variety of hats throughout the day, it's understandable that stress is a common reason people seek therapy. Stress can be a helpful thing— it can help us feel motivated and energized, work on goals, and desire growth and development. However, stress that is chronic and high leads to physical, emotional, and behavioral problems. And as a result, these symptoms may lead to difficulties with how well we can wear our different hats. 

For many, the issue is not about recognizing stress, but about knowing what to do about it. Living busy lives and playing different roles makes it difficult for us to even find time to manage stress. Therefore, my next few blogs will feature different stress management skills that can all be done under ten minutes. I will give an explanation about each skill, explaining why it’s a stress management technique, and then give a specific exercise for how to practice it. Let’s start with a skill that takes under one minute and is the thing we all already do: breathing.

Breathing becomes shallow and fast when we're stressed, and sometimes we can even forget to breathe. As a result, we prevent our bodies from functioning at its best. Shallow breathing does not allow oxygen to get throughout our bodies, leading to other anxiety and stress symptoms such as heart palpitations, jitteriness, and muscle tension. Breathing deeply into your belly gets the oxygen to your muscles and brain and helps your parasympathetic nervous system, the “rest and digest” system, kick into gear. Deep breathing not only gives your body the oxygen that it needs, but it helps you feel in control, keeping you focused on feeling calm rather than whatever is stressing you out. Here is a step-by-step guide for deep breathing:

1. Begin by exhaling all your air out.

2. Inhale through your nose to a count of 4.

3. Hold your breath for a count of 7.

4. Exhale completing through your mouth to a count of 8.

5. Repeat steps #2-4 two more times for a total of three breaths.

The 4-7-8 breathing exercise is simple, fast, and effective. When deep breathing, remember to have your abdomen rise when you breathe in, and fall when you breathe out. Practice this exercise once a day as its impact on stress levels will gain power with repetition. Taking all three breaths takes only 57 seconds, so no excuses! You can use it at work, on the subway, or before bed. So, keep calm and breathe on.

Amy Brightman is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support in prioritizing and taking care of your mental health, contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help.