Breathing exercise for when you are feeling stressed

Photo by Max van den Oetelaar

Finding a few minutes in your daily routine to do a calming breathing exercise can be incredibly beneficial. Especially if you are experiencing stress or anxiety.

What follows is a very simple exercise that is designed to help you reconnect with your breath on a daily basis.

Getting settled before you begin to breathe

Find a comfortable position, ideally one where you won’t be disturbed for about 5 minutes.

You could be sitting on a supportive chair, lying on the floor or your bed, or even standing up.

Rest your body parts so that you feel as comfortable as possible without restricting any breathing. For instance, arms placed by your sides if you are lying down.

If you become preoccupied with finding the perfect position, acknowledge that there may always be some thoughts of discomfort when being still.

Once settled, start your breathing exercise.

Carrying out a simple breathing exercise

  • Gently let your breath flow all the way to the belly.
  • Visualise the breath travel in through the nose, past your lungs and down to the belly. Then notice it travel back up again, this time leaving through your mouth.
  • Keep breathing in this way. In through the nose, down to the belly. Then, back out from the belly, letting the breath leave through the mouth.
  • Repeat this cycle: breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth.
  • Try to keep your breaths slow and consistent. Slowly counting ‘5-4-3-2-1’ on the in-breath and ‘1-2-3-4-5’ on the out-breath can be helpful to keep the pace.
  • If this feels too much to start with, find a pace that is comfortable for you, such as counting to 3.
  • Repeat this cycle of breathing for up to 5 minutes.

When finished, try to gently return to the activities of your day. You might find it helpful to take a moment to check-in with yourself and name an emotion that you are feeling.

Doing more with this breathing technique

As you get more comfortable with this technique, you might choose to modify it slightly. Possibilities include placing a hand on the belly to notice the movement of the in-breath and out-breath, or gradually extending the time given to each breath.

What scientific evidence is there that breathing exercises are helpful?

Breathing exercises can help reduce perceived stress (1) and form an important part of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Programme (2).

 Aside from the scientific research, why not try it out for yourself and see if it helps? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments.

Photo by Jonathan Bean


1. Clinton V, Swenseth M, Carlson SE. Do Mindful Breathing Exercises Benefit Reading Comprehension? A Brief Report. J Cogn Enhanc [Internet]. 2018 Sep 1;2(3):305–10.

2. Kabat-Zinn J. Full Catastrophe Living, Revised Edition: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation. Kindle eBook. London: Piatkus; 2013. 720 p.

By William Smith, MSSc, BSc, MBACP

Will (he/his) is a psychological counsellor specialising in change, identity and gender. He holds a Master of Social Science degree in Gender Studies and a Bachelor of Psychology (with Honours) degree. Will's a Registered Member (No. 375157) of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and a Graduate Member of the British Psychological Society (BPS).

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