Breathing and relaxation exercises are designed to help release both physical and psychological tension, which is the body’s natural response to stress. By learning and practicing relaxation and breathing techniques, you can feel more able to manage the bodily sensations of anxiety. Furthermore these techniques can also help with depression. Different techniques work for different people, it’s important to practice and use something that you find helpful. 

Breathing

When we are anxious or worried, the way that we breathe can change, and we tend to “over breathe” (and sometimes this can lead to hyperventilation). This means that we tend to breathe more, and take in more oxygen than we need, but the depth of breathing tends to decrease. We often identify these differences as being either chest or stomach breathing. Chest breathing is what we tend to do when we are anxious, taking frequent shallow breaths, which may also be irregular. Stomach (or diaphragmatic) breathing is when oxygen is taken into the chest by the diaphragm pulling down and opening out the chest cavity, and is better for using oxygen to produce energy, and expelling carbon dioxide. This is the type of breathing we do whilst we are asleep. 

How to find if you breathe with your chest or your stomach? 

Place the hand you write with on your stomach between your lower ribs and belly button (navel). Put the other hand on your breastbone, just below the collarbones. Take a deep breath and notice: 

“Which hand moves the most? The hand on your chest or the hand on your stomach?” 

Whichever hand moved the most indicates which style of breathing you do. 

There are many kinds of breathing exercises available and different people find different exercises helpful. Below is an exercise called Square Breathing which is a simple and easy to remember exercise to control your breathing.

It is good to practice your breathing exercises regularly, try to practice for 3-5 minutes, 2-3 times a day.

*Try to breathe in with your stomach rather than your chest

Guided Imagery

Another way that can help you to relax is by using guided imagery. You can listen to or download the guided imagery exercise below. 

If possible try and dim the room lighting and find a comfortable position.  

To begin: Imagine a pleasant scene, somewhere that you feel relaxed, and at ease. Try to imagine this as vividly as you can and just focus on that place. Let the image relax you more and more deeply. 

For this example our pleasant scene is going to be a garden in summertime. However, you can use any image / scene that you feel comfortable with. 

If possible try and dim the room lighting and find a comfortable position.  

You can do this exercise at any time during the day, whenever you might feel anxious or overwhelmed. If you complete this exercise during the day time, you can return to your daily life by calmly counting backwards from 4 to 1. As you count backwards you will begin to feel more alert and able to concentrate whilst still feeling at ease. At 1, and when you are ready to open your eyes, stretch out and try to continue on your day carrying with you that feeling of relaxation you achieved during the exercise.