Mindful Breathing (How to Calm Down in Under 1 Minute)

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Did you know there's a way to reduce stress and restore calmness that you can do anywhere that you can sit and relax for a few minutes? It's called mindful breathing and it can calm an overactive nervous system quickly.

Calm is the key to living a life without stress or anxiety, but some people have more difficulty than others in following this course of action. The power of mindful breathing is often underestimated. Taking even a few moments out from stressful situations provides you with the means to find your way back.


What is Mindful Breathing?

Mindful breathing means that you breathe consciously, not automatically. And, because you're conscious of breathing, you can come to know what your body's doing and what it's feeling at any given moment. This method, which has been used for thousands of years, is so effective because it lets you know exactly what your body is doing at any moment.

Shifting your focus toward your breath also shifts your mind away from external sources of stress. When you shift the focus to your breath, you consciously put your problems out of your mind for a time and that gives your body a chance to relax and your brain an opportunity to chill out.

Plus, slow, focusing breathing calms your sympathetic or "fight or flight" nervous system in another way. When you breathe too fast, you release lots of carbon dioxide into the air that causes a rise in the pH of your blood and this worsens stress and anxiety.

In fact, one way doctors treat patients having an anxiety attack who present to the emergency room is to ask them to breathe into a paper bag. By doing this, they rebreathe their carbon dioxide and their blood pH returns to normal. When that happens, their anxiety diminishes. That's how important breathing is for stress management.

Hopefully, your anxiety level and breathing will never get so out of whack that you end up in the emergency room but breathing mindfully can help you calm down when you feel anxious and it can help you better manage stress.




How to Practice Mindful Breathing

How do you breathe mindfully? Focus your attention on your breathing, preferably while you're sitting in a comfortable chair. Feel the air enter your lungs as your lungs slowly expand. Then notice the air leave your lungs in a controlled manner. The key is to tune into the natural flow of your breath. If your mind starts to wander to things that make you anxious, gently redirect your focus back to the natural flow of your breathing.

You can see why this approach is so effective. Once you tune into your breathing you shift away from anxious thoughts, worries and negative emotions. The more you practice mindful breathing, the easier it becomes to focus on your breath and away from outside factors that steal your calmness.

Plus, mindful breathing ramps up the parasympathetic nervous system, the division that opposes the sympathetic or fight-or-flight component. So, activating the parasympathetic system helps you relax rather than stress or run away. You'll discover that your heart rate slows and if someone took your blood pressure, it would likely be lower.

In many ways, mindful breathing is like meditation, another mind-body exercise that reduces anxiety and has a calming effect. Plus, you can do it anywhere that you can sit and relax, even your car when it's parked. Concentrating on your breath in this way will help calm you down and reset your nervous system. You can do this exercise as often as you need it - even just taking a few deep breaths during the day can be very beneficial.

You can imagine how that might help if a stressful event is on the horizon like you're getting ready to take a test or give a speech. So, practice doing it when you're not feeling stressed to get comfortable with mindful breathing for times when you need it.




The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique: How to Do It

Breathing is one of the most important things we can do when our emotions start to overwhelm us. It's an instant way to calm down your body and mind so that we can find peace again. The breath is the only thing in this world that we can control. It's also something we take for granted every day until it starts to feel like a struggle. It's so simple, but it has such an impact on our lives; when you're feeling anxious or sad, just do what feels natural: breathe.

The 4-7-8 breathing technique was developed by Dr. Andrew Weil and refers to how long one should inhale for, hold their breath for, and exhale for when practicing deep breathes exercises like this one.  The beauty of 4-7-8 breathing is its simplicity. All you need to do is follow these three steps:

1. Breathe in for four seconds through your nose
2. Hold your breath for seven seconds
3. Exhale for eight seconds through your mouth

With this simple exercise, you can take control of your breathing and calm down when anxiety sets in. It's perfect anytime but especially during stressful moments or periods of intense anxiety.



Our Favorite TED Talk about Mindful Breathing

Max Strom, author of A Life Worth Breathing and There is No App for Happiness, explains in his TED Talk the benefits of conscious breathing--especially when used as an antidote to anxiety or depression. Max tells us that "breathing can be described as self-healing." 

Breath to Heal by Max Strom


Shop Our Favorite Items About Breathing


The Bottom Line

Calmness is good for your mind and body and learning mindful breathing can help you create calmness, reduce stress and ground yourself in the present moment. Everyone needs ways to better deal with stress and this is one of the simpler techniques you can use, yet it offers benefits. How you breathe matters and now you know how to breathe in a way that calms your mind and body.




"Mindful Breathing | Practice | Greater Good in Action." ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/mindful_breathing.

"What is Mindful Breathing? Exercises, Scripts, and Videos." positivepsychology.com/mindful-breathing/.

"Greater Good in Action." https://ggia.berkeley.edu/.

"Overview - Mindful Breathing: Roberto P. Benzo - Mayo ...." mayo.edu/research/labs/mindful-breathing/overview.

"Your Breath is Your Brain's Remote Control - Mindful." mindful.org/breath-brains-remote-control/.



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