Let’s face it: life can be taxing, especially these days. As a result, more people than ever are struggling with stress, anxiety, and insomnia.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed or restless, your breath is probably one of the last things on your mind. What most people don’t realize is that your breath is one of the most powerful tools you have to soothe your tense mind and body.
By performing simple breathing exercises, you can reduce stress, quell anxiety, and encourage restful sleep. We’ll be sharing five effective breathing exercises in this article, but first, let’s review some basics about stress, anxiety, and insomnia.
What are stress, anxiety, and insomnia and how are they related?
Stress is a normal part of the human experience. In fact, the human body is evolutionarily designed to react to stressful situations. When you experience challenges (stressors), your body produces short-term changes, such as increased heart rate, rapid breathing, extra oxygen to the brain (which increases alertness), sharper senses (like sight and hearing), and blood sugar release to supply energy to important parts of the body. Collectively, these symptoms are what we call “stress.”
Stress helps keep you alert, motivated, and ready to avoid danger, but it can become a problem when stressors continue without relief or relaxation.
Anxiety is similar to stress, but there is a distinct difference. Stress is usually caused by an external trigger, such as an argument with your spouse or a work deadline, while anxiety is defined by persistent, excessive worries that don’t go away even in the absence of a stressor. Anxiety, however, is often initially triggered by short-term or long-term stress.
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that can make it difficult to fall asleep, difficult to stay asleep, or cause a person to wake up too early and not be able to get back to sleep. A person is said to have insomnia if sleep problems occur at least three times a week for three months or longer. Insomnia has many potential causes, but is often the result of stress and anxiety. Conversely, ongoing insomnia can cause stress and anxiety.
As you can see, these three conditions are connected and ultimately stem from the same cause: an unbalanced autonomic nervous system.
Diaphragmatic breathing is an effective remedy to this unbalance. It increases the activity of your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your rest-and-digest response. At the same time, it reduces the activity of your sympathetic nervous system, which controls your fight-or-flight response. As a result, you’ll experience reduced feelings of stress and anxiety and, consequently, an improved ability to fall and stay asleep.[*][*]
Easy Breathing Exercises for Stress, Anxiety, and Insomnia
Breathing is a mostly unconscious process, however, you can consciously change your breathing rate to calm your mind and body. We’ve rounded up five simple breathing exercises that you can use to weather stormy seas and harness your zen.
1. Box Breathing
Also known as square breathing, box breathing is very simple to learn, remember, and practice. Don’t underestimate the simplicity of this exercise—it’s a powerful way to induce relaxation. It’s even used by United States Navy SEALs to reduce stress and anxiety.
To practice box breathing, simply follow these steps:
- Exhale slowly, releasing all the air from your lungs.
- Breathe in through your nose as you slowly count to four in your head.
- Hold your breath for a count of four.
- Exhale for a count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of four.
- Repeat steps 2-5 for four rounds, or until you feel relaxed.
2. Mantra Breathing
Synchronizing your breath with a mantra—a repeated sound or word—can help you sharpen your focus and relax an overactive mind. For this exercise, choose a word that makes you feel at ease, such as “peace,” “relax,” “or “calm.”
To practice mantra breathing, simply follow these steps:
- Establish a slow, diaphragmatic breathing pattern for about a minute.
- As you exhale, say your chosen mantra out loud.
- As you inhale, say your mantra quietly in your mind.
- Continue until you embody your chosen word.
3. 4-7-8 Breathing
Developed by Harvard-trained integrative medicine expert, Dr. Andrew Weil, the 4-7-8 method is a breathing technique adopted from the yogic practice of pranayama, meaning “regulation of breath.” Dr. Weil refers to this exercise as a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.”
To practice 4-7-8 breathing, simply follow these steps:
- Making a “whoosh” sound, exhale completely through your mouth.
- Keeping your mouth closed, inhale deeply through your nose for a count of four, allowing your stomach to expand.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale through your mouth for a count of eight with a “whoosh” sound.
- Repeat this cycle about four times or until you feel relaxed.
4. Lion’s Breath Breathing
You might feel a bit silly while practicing lion’s breath, but this breathing exercise is very effective for relaxing the muscles in your face and jaw and alleviating stress.
This exercise is best performed in a seated position, leaning forward slightly with your hands on your knees or the floor.
To practice lion’s breath breathing, simply follow these steps:
- Spread your fingers as wide as possible.
- Inhale deeply through your nose.
- During the exhale, open your mouth as wide as you can, stick out your tongue, and stretch it down toward your chin as far as it will go. On the exhale, make a “ha” sound.
- Relax your face and breathe normally for a few seconds.
- Repeat lion’s breath up to six times.
5. Diaphragmatic Breathing with Somnox
Somnox is a jelly-bean-shaped companion that uses robotic technology to help calm your nervous system, thereby reducing stress and anxiety and helping you fall asleep faster, sleep deeper, and wake up refreshed. This science-backed robot expands and deflates as if it’s taking relaxing, diaphragmatic belly breaths.
Simply holding the robot, unconsciously encourages you to adopt the same slower-paced breathing rhythm. This stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which relaxes your nerves and puts you in a more conducive state for sleep.
To use Somnox for anxiety reduction or improved sleep, follow these steps:
- Hold Somnox 2 and turn it on. Within minutes, you’ll subconsciously adopt its calm breathing pattern.
- Smart sensors respond to your breathing in real-time, matching your rhythm and gradually adjusting it to the ideal rate.
- Let relaxation wash over you.
- If you’re using it for sleep, continue deeply breathing until you fall asleep. With the help of Somnox 2, you’re sure to fall asleep quickly, stay asleep, and wake up feeling rested.
Seventy percent of Somnox users report improved sleep quality within four weeks. Wondering if Somnox is right for you? Take our online sleep test to find out.
Break the Cycle of Stress, Anxiety, and Insomnia
Feelings of stress and anxiety and occasional sleeplessness are a part of our everyday lives. However, instead of allowing them to worsen, become chronic, or consume you, reach for effective tools like diaphragmatic breathing to soothe your mind and body
The next time you find yourself in choppy waters, remember these breathing exercises. They may seem simple, but they’re incredibly powerful and effective.