Deep breathing and breathing exercises

11 November 2020

Why deep breathing?

When we are anxious, our bodies think we are in danger and triggers a stress response. The stress response is meant to help us fight the danger, run away from the danger, or hide from the danger (a fight/flight/freeze response). The stress response includes shallow and rapid breathing, increased heart rate, and muscle tension. This is not always the best response as the danger perceived is not always physical (for example work stress, conflict, or financial stress).

Deep breathing triggers our “relaxation response” and will help decrease the feelings of anxiety and slow our breathing down.


Try and be as comfortable as possible by sitting or lying down. If you feel comfortable, you can close your eyes. You can also place your hand on your stomach, allowing you to feel it rise and fall with each inhalation and exhalation. This will help you be more mindful of your breathing.

There are many different types of breathing exercises, but the “recipe” is always the same:

Note: Remember to take slow, deep breaths

  1. Breathe in through your nose
  2. Allow for a pause, holding the breath in your lungs
  3. Breathe out slowly through your mouth
  4. Repeat as needed

Types of breathing exercises:

  • Inhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, exhale for 6 counts, repeat as needed
  • Inhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts, repeat 4 times
  • Inhale for 4 counts, hold for 2 counts, exhale for 4 counts, repeat 2 times
  • Inhale for 4 counts, hold for 7 counts, exhale for 8 counts, repeat as needed


  • If it isn’t working, slow down! Count slowly, timing each step in your head. The most common mistake is breathing too fast
  • Counting each breath or step will help take your mind of the source of your anxiety
  • You can adapt the counts to suit you