Breathing exercises are one of the most common stress-relief tips, and that is because they can be very helpful with promoting relaxation. Deep breathing gets your body acting more like it does when it is relaxed, which in turn makes your body switch from the sympathetic nervous system mode that is activated when we're stressed to the parasympathetic nervous system mode that helps our bodies function normally. If you're like me, you may appreciate the need for deep breathing but struggle with actually doing it.
Trying to breathe deeply gave me something new to stress about, which made me either stop doing it or not benefit from it.
My Journey With Deep Breathing Exercises
The first breathing tip I remember getting was just to pause and breathe during stressful situations or before acting on an emotion. It could help you to stop and relax or think. It was pretty helpful for that initial moment.
The problem started when I tried to use breathing for meditating or reducing stress for more than just a pause and regroup.
People would suggest inhaling and exhaling to a count of 6 or higher. It seemed my breath caught in the middle of doing that, like I didn't want to do it or I was pausing with counts. This would be distracting or worrisome.
I also saw those apps and gifs that used images to show you when to inhale and when to exhale. That looks promising. It's a peaceful image and a guide in one. But if you don't quite get the image or you're stressing about following it exactly, again it messes you up.
I tried various kinds of meditation and one of them recommended that you hold your breath between the inhale and exhale for a period of time to clear your mind. I discovered that it is a great way to clear your mind. That worked surprisingly well for that purpose, but then the meditation app wanted me to do it over and over again and I was worried that it might not be healthy.
My therapist sent me a video about using your nerves like your vagus and heart nerve to calm yourself. It mentioned breathing, the valsalva maneuver, and humming. I haven't actually tried humming to reduce stress, though it did sound like a helpful alternative to deep breathing. I have never been successful doing the valsalva maneuver. I should probably do more humming for stress, though, because I have discovered that singing is good for stress. It involves controlled and positive-feeling breathing, stimulates the vagus nerve, and produces endorphins and oxytocin. You can hum in situations where you wouldn't sing, so the two could work together in your stress toolkit.
I also tried using the Finch app. It offers a wealth of mental health activities, and one of them was to take a deep breath and enjoy it. I can do that. There's no pressure and your focus is on feeling good. The only requirement is that your breathing feels good.
I'm not here to tell people what breathing exercises to do. My main purpose with this post is to point out that there are many more options than you probably realize. If you haven't found one that works for you yet, maybe one of these in this post or one I don't know about can help you. So, try different things and see what you will do and what gives you good results. You may discover that different ones work best for various situations such as when you're alone and have more time and when you're on the go or in public.