Breathing tips for when you’re feeling stressed or anxious

Try this for instant calm

Late for work? Kids out of control? COVID lockdown got you down? Health and well-being specialist, yoga therapist and dietitian, Suzanne Pearson shares her tips on the importance of controlled breathing and how it can help during times of stress.

When we are stressed or anxious, our body releases hormones that causes our heart to beat faster, blood pressure to rise and our breath to quicken. In the short-term, this response can be beneficial enhancing both our mental and physical performance. But when the stress response keeps firing, day after day, it can put your health at serious risk.


Take a Breath

Box breathing is a powerful, yet simple, relaxation technique that helps breathing return to its normal rhythm. Practised by yogis, first responders, the police and athletes, this pranayama (or breathing practice) can clear the mind, relax the body and improve focus. Intentional breathing allows the nervous system to leave a state of stress and enter into a state of calm. Some may even find it useful to practice at night before bed to help promote sleep. Box breathing is quick to learn, easy to do, and can be done just about anywhere.

When box breathing we inhale, pause, exhale and pause in a 1:1:1:1 ratio. That’s it! Ready to give it a go? Let’s practice.


How to Box Breathe

Begin by finding a comfortable position, preferably seated with feet flat on the floor. Close down the eyes or soften the gaze, looking downward. Exhale completely. Then begin.


Steps to follow:

1. Breathe in through the nose for a count of four

2. Keep your lungs full for a count of four

3. Exhale for a count of four

4. Pause for a count of four


Repeat these steps 3 to 5 times or until calm returns. Over time you may work up to several minutes or include it as part of your daily routine. If you find the timing challenging to begin with, try counting to 3 instead of 4. With practice, you may gradually increase to 6 or longer. There is no magic number, try it out and see what works best for you.


Tips for Beginners

  • Try to find a quiet space to practice box breathing. This isn’t at all necessary to perform the technique, but it can be easier to focus if there are fewer distractions.
  • You may find it comforting to place one hand on the chest and another on the low belly to feel where the air is entering.
  • When holding the breath, try not to force the mouth or nose shut. Rather, keep an expansive, open feeling even though you are not inhaling.


Box breathing is a handy, do anywhere tool you can return to any time you need to calm your nerves and relieve stress.


Instant zen!


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Suzanne Pearson is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Yoga Therapist and Well-being Advisor with experience across clinical and corporate health. She is passionate about empowering people with various physical and mental health concerns to take control of their health and wellness. Appreciating that no two people can be cared for in the same way, she works with individuals to understand their unique needs and offers personalised lifestyle solutions for health and healing.