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Relax, Take a Deep Breath


Most of us have probably heard, or made the suggestion to someone, to “relax, take a deep breath” as a way to help calm down and reduce stress or anxiety. Breathing techniques have long been used as part of traditional stress reduction practices and their use is supported by much research. Practices involving consciously controlling and focusing on your breathing can be powerful tools for relaxation, stress reduction and mental health.


Voluntary regulated breathing practices have been shown to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, insomnia, posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, attention deficit disorder and schizophrenia. 1

A focus on breath or various breathing techniques are part of stress reduction practices such as progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness meditation, yoga, qigong, and tai chi. Mindfulness meditation allows the breath to slow down naturally by focusing attention on the breath during meditation.

Breathing exercises involve consciously controlling the rate, rhythm, and depth of breathing to reduce stress and increase parasympathetic nervous system activity. 2 The parasympathetic nervous system, part of the involuntary nervous system sometimes referred to as “rest and digest,” helps us relax. The sympathetic nervous system, another part of the nervous system referred to as “fight or flight” response, prepares our body for activity.

Breathing practices have been used to help people cope with experiencing a disaster. One study looked using a breathing technique called Breath Water Sound among people who had recently survived a tsunami. People who participated in an eight-hour training on the simple breathing, sound relaxation and meditation technique had significantly reduced PTSD and depression symptoms compared to a control group with no training.


One example of a simple breathing practice is coherent breathing which involves slowing one's breathing to a rate of about 5 breaths per minute. It can be done sitting upright or lying down. It involves slowly, gently, breathing in through the nose and expanding the belly for six seconds, pausing and breathing out gently and smoothly for six seconds. This pattern is continued, working up to practicing for 10 to 20 minutes a day.

Many apps are available to assist with breathing techniques (such as Breathe2Relax, Breathing Zone and Belly Bio Interactive Breathing) 2.

Breathing practices have numerous advantages for reducing stress and improving well-being: they can be integrated with other mind-body practices, can be integrated into conventional treatments to alleviate illness symptoms and support mental and physical health, generally don’t have side effects and do not interact with prescription medications and are affordable. 3

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  1. Brown R, Gerbarg, PL, and Muench F. 2013. Breathing Practices for Treatment of Psychiatric and Stress-Related Medical Conditions. Psychiatric Clin N Am, 36:121-140.
  2. Reynold, G. Why Deep Breathing May Keep Us Calm. New York Times. April 5, 2017.
  3. Culbert, T. Perspectives on Technology-Assisted Relaxation Approaches to Support Mind-Body Skills Practice in Children and Teens: Clinical Experience and Commentary. Children, Special Issue: Mind-Body Medicine in Children and Adolescents, April 2017.
  4. Gerbarg, PL and Brown RP. Chapter: Breathing Practices for Mental Health and Aging, Chapter in Complementary and Integrative Therapies for Mental Health and Aging, Oxford University Press. Dec. 2015


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Comments (1) Add a Comment

  • 000000239587

    Hi, Have voluntary regulated breathing practices such as the given example been shown to be beneficial in treating phobias? Thank you for your time


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