Controlled breathing – a technique designed to slow your breathing – can reduce stress, fast.

Breathing techniques to reduce stress -

Psychologist Damien Adler, from Victoria’s Mind Life Clinic, says it works because when we get stressed, we start to breathe faster. While in the old times this would have been helpful because it would have given us the energy to either fight that woolly mammoth or run away from it, nowadays it’s less useful.

In fact, breathing fast actually causes more problems. Adler says this is because it messes with your blood gases, causing a “chain reaction” of unpleasant events (think lightheadedness, dizziness and downright exhaustion). “So we end up in a vicious cycle of stress, leading to rapid breathing, leading to even more stress,” says Adler.

Slowing your breathing can reverse these effects. It can also lower your heart rate and blood pressure. “You’ll start to feel more relaxed, your thinking will become clearer…and you’ll start to feel less stressed,” says Adler. Not bad for a couple of minutes of breathing, hey?

How to
Start by focusing on your breathing. Adler says this is best done via breathing through your nose. “You’re paying attention to two things – the rate at which you’re breathing and the depth of your breathing.” The aim, says Adler, is to focus on slowing down your rate of breathing (how fast you’re puffing away) while increasing the depth of your breaths.

To increase the depth, Adler says you need to breathe from your belly rather than your chest. “The best way to do that is to place a hand on your belly…and if you’re looking at your belly you should see your hand rise up and down.” To slow your rate of breathing, Adler advises breathing in for three seconds, holding for one second, and then out for four seconds. Got it?

The test
I’m sitting at my desk with a gazillion emails to respond to, a handful of phone calls to return and a stack of paperwork. I’m stressed but I can definitely spare two minutes to try to unwind.

I start by measuring my heart rate – it’s pounding away at a pretty speedy 100 beats per minute. I then measure my breathing: 18 breaths per minute. I close my eyes, place my hands on my belly to ensure I do the deep-belly breathing thing and get started.

After two minutes I’m amazed that my heart rate has dropped to 88 beats per minute and my breathing has slowed down to a mere 10 breaths per minute. I feel calmer, more focused and ready to tackle my to-do list.

The verdict
While it’s not as good as an actual break, two minutes of controlled breathing can help you unwind. Also, the more you practise it, the quicker you’ll feel relaxed. Plus, it’s free and can be done anywhere.

NEXT: 8 ways to de-stress at work>>

Author: Dr Evelyn Lewin