The Best Breathing Exercises To Relieve Anxiety And Stress

Breathe yourself happy and calm.

How to breathe

by Susannah Taylor |
Updated on

Words: Susannah Taylor

‘Breathe deeper, deeper,’ Rebecca Dennis is saying, pointing down into my hip crease. ‘Breathe down into, here.’ I’m breathing what feels like down into the tips of my toes and have been for about 20 minutes without closing my mouth. My hands are buzzing and I’m feeling slightly like I’m about to cry for no reason. ‘It’s safe to let go,’ Rebecca repeats as I surrender to the rhythm of what the pros call ‘Transformational Breath’.

Rebecca herself came to the practice of transformational breathing having suffered from depression for 15 years. ‘It was the only thing that worked for me,’ she says. So what does it do? Transformational breathing focuses on the use of a full diaphragmatic breath. ‘The majority of us only use a third of our respiratory system,’ Rebecca explains, ‘And we all have different breathing patterns – some of us are breath holders, some irregular breathers and some (normally anxiety sufferers) are chest breathers and don’t breathe into their abdomen.’ The point of her sessions, she explains, is to reframe your breathing patterns, open up your respiratory system to its full capacity, and, essentially, to give your whole diaphragm a workout.

Rebecca’s clients, including the likes of Fearne Cotton (who has dedicated a section of her book Calm to her) also find it acts like therapy without the talking. How? I ask. ‘We all have a life force energy in our bodies,’ Rebecca explains, ‘The Indians call it Prana and the Chinese Chi – and we can generate and change our energy by our breathing. We can go from feeling anxious to calm, from scattered to focussed.’ With a ‘Reset’ retreat at the Marbella club, Spain, in January (, Rebecca says other benefits are feeling more positive, increased energy and better sleep.

Here’s how we can all reap the benefits...

To reduce anxiety try box breathing:

This technique is used by the SAS to focus and ground in highly stressful situations, helping to calm thoughts and bring us back to the present moment. Inhale slowly through the nose for the count of four then hold the breath for an equal count of four. Release the breath all the way out through the nose to the count of four, then hold the breath for an equal count of four. Repeat the cycle for as long as you need to relax, and always breathe from the lower belly.

For relieving emotional stress try deep diaphragmatic breathing:

You can do this sitting anywhere. Relax your jaw, face and shoulders, rest your hands on your lower belly and keep your spine straight. Breathe in slowly through your nose, let the air flow in as you inhale and expand your belly, expanding the sides and lower ribs, and filling the diaphragm, back and lower back. Allow the deep inhale to push your belly out then let the breath go with a gentle sigh on the exhale, feeling the belly coming in. Don’t force the air out. Repeat 10-20 times.


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