Breathing exercises to calm yourself in stressful times

Written by Sarah Davies

Registered Psychologist

Stress, it’s something we all feel from time to time – whether it be a work deadline, never ending to-do list, negative thoughts or a disagreement you’re having with a friend.

No matter what the cause, if your body’s stress response has been triggered, then it is helpful to know a couple of techniques that you can use to calm yourself down.

Take a deep breath

Sarah Davies, Psychologist from Sarah Davies Psychology, says that breathing sets off a cascade of physical changes in your body which promote either stress or relaxation.

“Whether you like it or not, the rate and depth which you breathe at is a huge determinant of your mental state,” Sarah says. “Deep breathing, also known as belly breathing or abdominal breathing, is the process of completely filling your lungs with air and bringing that breath deeply into your diaphragm, which sits near your stomach area. This activates our parasympathetic nervous symptom, which allows our bodies to ‘rest and digest’, as opposed to the sympathetic nervous system response which is activated during our ‘fight or flight’ state. Undertaking deep breathing exercises can help shift your body from a stress response, to a relaxation response.”

Next time you are feeling stressed, give these exercises a go:

Belly Breathing

  1. Sit or lie in a comfortable position.
  2. Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly, just below your ribs.
  3. Take a deep breath in through your nose, and feel the breath move down your body so that the hand on your belly rises.
  4. Count the breath in through your nose for “1, 2, 3” seconds.
  5. Breathe out through your mouth for “1, 2, 3” seconds.
  6. With each breathe out, allow any tension in your body to slip away.
  7. Repeat 10-15 times.

Box Breathing (also known as Four-Square Breathing)

  1. Sit or lie in a comfortable position.
  2. Inhale for a count of “1, 2, 3, 4”.
  3. Hold air in your lungs for a count of “1, 2, 3, 4”.
  4. Exhale to a count of “1, 2, 3, 4”.
  5. Hold your lungs empty for a count of “1, 2, 3, 4”.
  6. Inhale and continue the cycle.
  7. Aim to repeat this four times in one sitting, up to several times as day as needed to calm your nerves and reduce your stress.

Sarah says that establishing a daily routine of deep belly breathing can help to bring improvement in your health, vitality and confidence.

“Using deep breathing, not only when you need to calm yourself, but also in your everyday activities, can bring positive changes to your physical wellbeing as well as your emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing,” Sarah says. “By bringing your attention back to your breathe and consciously practicing breath-control exercises, you have the power to deliberately change your breathing style and help yourself to feel calmer in your everyday life.”

Supporting your health and wellbeing

Looking after your emotional and mental state is important to your overall health and wellbeing. Whether you are looking for information about mental health for yourself or a loved one, we’re here to help.

Visit the hub

Posted: Jan 10 2022


The information contained here is of a general nature and does not take into account your personal medical situation. The information is not a substitute for independent professional medical advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or used for therapeutic purposes. Should you require specific medical information, please seek advice from your healthcare practitioner. Health Partners does not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information provided. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them.

© Copyright Health Partners. 2024 All Rights Reserved.

Health Partners is committed to providing quality and affordable health care, and we value our members and our obligation to protect your privacy. As part of our responsibility in protecting your privacy, from time to time we review our policies to ensure we are meeting our obligations. We have recently made some updates to our Privacy Policy. Please click here to view the Health Partners Privacy Policy.

Contact Us

1300 113 113 Thu 8am - 8pm

Send us a message

Contact options and opening hours

View all