How to Use Your Breath to Manage Stress

UPDATED: April 21, 2020
PUBLISHED: August 24, 2017
How to Use Your Breath to Manage Stress

Stress is a natural part of life and can’t be completely avoided or eliminated, but knowing how to deal with stress helps you to be in control in every situation in life.

Related: 11 Strategies for Managing Stress

Our daily routines are filled with small and big annoyances, and potential causes of anxiety. When we find ourselves in a “tight situation,” the natural tendency of the body is to stiffen, and the breath to become shallow or restricted. These are the hereditary responses of our survival mechanism: the fight-or-flight instinct.

The solution for situations like these is to learn to do the opposite—breathe deeply and evenly. What you want to carry with you throughout life is the clear understanding that your breath is your personal domain, and no one can enter this private space uninvited. It is the firm ground on which you can stand no matter how dangerous a situation might seem. Whatever negative circumstances we encounter, we can always draw inside, center ourselves and regulate our breath: deep, steady and free.

Here are some helpful mantras to carry in your mental toolkit and repeat silently to yourself when you face a tight situation.

  • My strength is in my breath.
  • When I control my breath, I control my life.
  • The oxygen of the whole world is available to me.

This last idea is especially helpful to realize that you’re never at a lack for oxygen. There’s always plenty of air around you to fill your lungs to full capacity, so you never feel deprived of breath or anxious for space or safety.

Related: 5 Simple Habits to Manage Your Anxiety

Let’s now do a simple exercise that will help you develop mastery of your breath.

  1. Make yourself comfortable, and establish a free and effortless pattern of breaths.
  2. Breathe in and breathe out, nice deep breaths.
  3. Now inhale on the count of five.
  4. Exhale without count.

Repeat this sequence three times.

  1. Now inhale without count, and exhale on the count of five.

Repeat this sequence three times.

  1. Now inhale on the count of 10, and exhale without count. It helps here to use your fingers as visual reminders, so you don’t exert yourself mentally while focusing on your breath.

Repeat this sequence three times.

  1. Now inhale without count, and exhale on the count of 10.

Repeat this sequence three times

  1. Now slowly inhale on the count of 15, using your fingers to keep track. If counting to 15 proves too difficult, don’t worry about it, you’ll slowly build up to it. Just count to 12.
  2. Exhale without count.

Repeat this sequence three times.

  1. Now inhale without count, and exhale on the count of 15 or 12.

Repeat this sequence three times.

We will end this set now, and you’ll be able to repeat it as many times as you like as you go about your daily routines.

The huge benefit of this small exercise is that it shows you that you are in control of your breath. The fact that you are able to pace your breath over a count of 5, and then 10, and then 12 or 15, is a clear sign that you have now made your breath a conscious activity that you can manage. It is no longer something that simply happens. You have now made it a deliberate event, which you can monitor and regulate in every situation in your life.

Because you can master your breath in the contained environment of this exercise, the more you practice these sets, the more you’ll be in charge of your breath in every circumstance you encounter. When you face a crisis of some kind that threatens to get out of control, center on your breath—because this is something that you can control—and let your breath carry you to safety.

Related: How Successful People Beat Stress

Guy Joseph Ale is founding president of Lifespan Seminar and vice president of Asia Pacific Association of Psychology. Lifespan Seminar received the “Best of Beverly Hills Award” in Health and Wellness Workshops the last four years in a row, and the “Los Angeles Excellence Award” in the Life Coach category the last three years in a row. Guy is the author of A Manual for Mastering Your Life and co-author of Idea of Excellence: Multiple Perspectives, written with fellow speakers at the 2015 World Congress on Excellence. Guy works with private clients and organizations in USA, Europe and Asia. Learn more at