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  • Heather H. Christensen, PA-C

Breathing to Reduce Stress

You can learn to calm the fight or flight reaction that the body uses to respond to stress with something as simple as your breath. Self-calming techniques have been taught for centuries as effective methods to combat stress, anxiety and panic and restore calm. In our culture, people of all ages are living constantly in a sympathetic (fight or flight), high stress state. Without regular periods of parasympathetic (rest and restore) stimulation, our body is unable to repair the effects of stress, our ability to compensate with time diminishes and illness presents. Taking time (as little as 15 minutes) each day to practice self-calming, like the following three breathing techniques, will help your body recover from stress.

1. Belly Breathing - In seated position, place a hand on your belly. As you breathe in the belly presses out, moving your hand away from your body. As you breathe in your belly draws inward, moving your hand toward the body. Practice 10 - 15 breaths focusing on moving your hand with each breath.

2. Square Breathing - Once you've mastered belly breathing begin to control the rate of your breath by counting in four's. Breathe in for four counts. Hold for four counts. Breathe out for four counts and hold for four counts. Repeat for 10 breaths.

3. 4 - 8 - 2 Breathing - Once you've spent several weeks/months practicing square breathing you can learn to prolong the exhale to get even greater parasympathetic stimulation. In this pattern you inhale quickly with four counts, hold for four counts, then slow down the exhale to last 8 seconds. Hold the breath at the end of the exhale for two counts, exhale a bit more (if you can) then repeat.

Some things you may notice - if you get dizzy while controlling your breathing, stop, wait until the dizziness ceases before restarting. If belly breathing feels opposite to you, this can occur for at least two reasons - the first, when you live in a sympathetic (stressful) state you begin to chest breathe to compensate. Second, if you have recurring back pain, back or abdominal weakness, rectus diastasis, pelvic floor dysfunction or prolapse, you may have core dysfunction and breathing opposite of explained above is a common compensating strategy. The Centre of Health has programs to help you prevent further back-injury or for mothers experiencing these symptoms after childbirth. Learn more at

Breathing for stress reduction requires no special equipment or much instruction. Practicing regularly (especially daily) increases the effectiveness of your practice, and makes you skilled at restoring calm in times of great stress, anxiety or panic. Is this too simple to work for you? Why not give it a try? Every day this week, at noon and just before bed, do 10 breaths. Then, comment below, email us at, or tag us on a post @thecentrehealth and let us know how it went.

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