Paced Breathing Exercises

Everyone feels overwhelmed from time to time. Overwhelm happens in all areas of life, whether it’s related to stress at work or uncomfortable conversations.

Overwhelm can be a distressing feeling, but sometimes when you’re overwhelmed it can be hard to think of how to calm yourself down. You may have experienced this before, where you’re in a distressing situation and you feel unsure of what to do next. 

One coping skill to practice is paced breathing.

Regulating your breathing can go a long way toward calming you down. There are many different paced breathing techniques that you can use, based on how you’d like to feel. Deep breathing can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you feel calmer. 

Some common paced breathing exercises are: 

  • Square breathing: Also called box breathing. Inhale for a count of 4, hold the breath for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, and hold for a count of 4, then begin again.
  • 4-7-8 breathing: Inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7, then exhale for a count of 8. Try to make a “whoosh” sound as you exhale.
  • Alternate nostril breathing: Hold a hand over your nose, with a finger over each nostril. First, close your right nostril and inhale through your left nostril, then close your left nostril and exhale through your right nostril. Repeat on the other side and then start again.
  • Belly breathing: Place a hand on your chest and a hand on your belly. As you inhale, try to make the hand on your belly move out with the breath you take. Try to keep the hand on your chest still, so that your breaths go deep into your belly.