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Three proven breathing exercises to counteract stress

How can st

ress be good for you? We use the word ‘stress’ to denote something negative, yet a certain amount of stress is good for us – ‘eu’ stress, is the kind of adrenaline kick that encourages top performance, is to be welcomed. When that feeling starts to impact on our daily life however, or causes us to go into freefall by way of a panic attach or physical symptoms, we are in ‘distress’, the wrong kind.

Constant level of uncontrolled stress can lead to panic attacks for some people. Common symptoms include shallow fast breathing, palpitations, nausea and light-headedness. Stress can also exacerbate ailments such as in migraine, irritable bowel or skin conditions.

When we’re in the midst of meltdown, it’s difficult to think clearly and find a way to come back to calm waters. However, the simple act of breathing differently can alleviate that feeling of being overwhelmed.

Here then are three breathing exercises which you can practise daily. There is no mystery in how these work. But it’s a bit like sitting down at a piano in the Albert Hall hoping to play a concerto. It’s only going to work if you’ve practised!

So find a comfortable place to sit, rather than lie, back straight, supported if necessary, and begin…

1 Square breathing

This exercise punctuates the in breath and the out breath with pauses. Panic often causes people to feel they can’t actually breathe. They can, but they’ve forgotten the complete outbreath, so they continue to breathe in quickly, which causes tension and faster breathing, in a circular fashion. Square breathing allows slowing down, gaining control and fluttering down to earth.

  1. Breathe in for the count of four slowly, drawing up air and filling the lungs

  2. At the top of that breath, pause for the count of four

  3. Breathe out at the same pace, coming down to the count of four, emptying the lungs

  4. At the bottom of that breath, pause for the count of four

2 Belly breathing

We tend not to breathe fully, owing to sedentary lifestyles, poor posture and busy lives. Belly breathing aims to fill the lungs by expanding the abdomen, rather than raising the chest, thus drawing more oxygen into the body and then emptying the lungs as fully as possible.

  1. Place one hand on the chest and the other on the abdomen

  2. Breathe in, pushing the abdomen out gently – the chest hand should remain fairly stationary, while the abdominal hand should rise

  3. At the top of the breath, wait for a few seconds – as many as feel comfortable – and then exhale, feeling the abdomen contract back

 3 Six/eight breathing

Here we’re aiming for a longer out breath than in breath. With a short break between the two. This pattern of breathing activates the vagus nerve in the brain which is responsible for the parasympathetic system, which returns us to calm after a period of anxiety.

  1. Breathe in slowly for six, focusing on the abdomen rather than the chest

  2. Hold for two similarly slow counts

  3. Breathe out for eight at the same rate

See which of these works for you and practise, practise, practise….

Hypnotherapy utilises breathing to calm the individual to a point where the unconscious mind can be accessed and habits and patterns of thinking altered, with permission.

It is safe, effective and suitable for a wide range of mind-body issues.

In the UK, suitably qualified professional hypnotherapists can be located at

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