It’s a fact that we all have stress in our everyday lives. And while a certain amount of stress is necessary – it improves creativity, productivity, motor function, and our overall ability to survive and thrive – it’s pretty easy to feel overwhelmed and bogged down by stress, especially when you add the pressures of running a business into the mix.

There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of different techniques to reduce stress, but there’s one I’ve found to be the easiest, most effective, and dare I say darn-near-magical stress-reduction technique out there. And it’s so ridiculously simple, you might just laugh…

Breathe.

Yes, that’s it. Breathe. See? Ridiculously simple. Breathing is hands-down the best way to reduce stress and get your body and mind back into a state of balance. “What?! But everyone breathes!” you might say. And yes, on some level, you’d be right. We all have to breathe as a necessity to survival. But that doesn’t mean that all breathing is created equal.

Why It’s Works

First of all, consider this: The more you breathe the more air you take into your lungs. Your red blood cells take the oxygen that’s in the air and carries it to the rest of the cells in your body. The more oxygen your cells get, the healthier they are. And healthy cells = a healthier, more balanced you. Makes sense, right?

Well deep breathing brings in more of that good oxygen into your body, which actually helps to activate your body’s natural relaxation response. There are many ways to trigger the relaxation response, such as visualization, meditation, and yoga, but deep breathing is, in my option, the easiest, quickest, and most effective method.

Doing it Right

Yes, there’s a right way and a wrong way to breathe, at least when it comes to deep breathing exercises. Most people aren’t aware that there’s any other way to breathe than just plain “breathing the normal way.” This typically means that when you breathe, the breath goes in, while the shoulders and upper chest go up – this is called chest breathing by some.

The “right way” to breathe is called diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, and is the act of breathing by expanding your belly, rather than only expanding your chest. This type of breathing allows the diaphragm to move down, which creates more room for the lungs to expand, and brings more oxygen into your body. And remember, more oxygen encourages your natural relaxation response to kick in.

For more on diaphragmatic breathing, check out this informative article aptly named Diaphragmatic Breathing.

A Couple of Techniques to Get You Started

There are many variations of deep breathing exercises out there, and while there’s no single technique that is a one-size-fits-all, here are a couple of easy ones I picked up from Dr. Weil to get you started:

The “Four Seven Eight” Deep Breathing Technique

Breathe in quietly through your nose to a mental count of four. (don’t forget to use diaphragmatic breathing)

Hold to a count of seven.

Exhale slowly but completely to a count of eight.

Repeat this process 3 or 4 times, or until you feel calm and centered. Focus on the thought that you are bringing in positive energy when you breathe in, and releasing negative energy when you breathe out.

Breath Counting

Sit in a comfortable position with the spine straight and head inclined slightly forward. Gently close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Then let the breath come naturally without trying to influence it. Ideally it will be quiet and slow, but depth and rhythm may vary.

  • To begin the exercise, count “one” to yourself as you exhale.
  • The next time you exhale, count “two,” and so on up to “five.”
  • Then begin a new cycle, counting “one” on the next exhalation.

Never count higher than “five,” and count only when you exhale. You will know your attention has wandered when you find yourself up to “eight,” “12,” even “19.” Repeat this process for 10 minutes, or until you feel calm and centered.

What Methods Do You Use?

Do you use deep breathing or other relaxation exercises to keep your stress at bay? What works for you and what doesn’t? Please share your tips in the comments section below.