Cognitive Breathing: Reducing Stress and Anxiety

Cognitive Breathing: Reducing Stress and Anxiety

Cognitive breathing can be used as a coping strategy and has found to be effective for managing anxiety and stress. Let’s take a look at how cognitive breathing can help to reduce stress and manage anxiety, and how you can start to practice it…


Why CBT?

Before we jump into the breathing technique, let me briefly explain what cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is and why it is used. CBT is used to help treat people with a range of psychological struggles CBT is based on the idea that psychological problems arise as a result of how we evaluate and interpret situations. This includes our thoughts, feelings and behaviours surrounding a situation.

If you’d like to learn more about CBT, you can take a look at my CBT blog post, where I discuss CBT in more detail.


Intro to breathing

We all know that breathing is a fundamental part of our bodily functions. We need to breathe oxygen in order to survive and for our bodies to run efficiently. The balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide is determined and maintained by the depth of our breathing.

When we over-breathe, this balance is disrupted and our bodies respond with a number of chemical changes.  Some of the symptoms of over-breathing include; dizziness,  confusion, breathlessness, blurred vision, stress, tiredness, muscle stiffness, and numbness, to name a few.


So how do we gain control over our breathing?

Gaining control over our breathing is an important skill to develop and can really help to improve our levels of stress and anxiety over time. Let’s take a look at a calming technique that will help with breathing and general relaxation.

1. Make sure you are sitting comfortably without disruption.

2. Relax your jaw and inhale slowly through your nose.

3. As you breathe in, let your stomach expand (think of a balloon as it fills with air).

4. Breathe out, letting the air ‘fall’ from your chest.

5. Practice this a few times, focusing on breathing ‘low and slow’.


Once you get comfortable with this basic breathing technique, try the following pattern:

  1. Breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 2 counts, and breathe out for 6 counts.
  2. If you are an ‘over-breather’ usually, you might find this difficult to start with, but don’t worry, just keep at it and I promise it will get easier with practice and focus. If it’s really tricky, try the following breathing pattern instead; breathe in for 3 counts and out for 4 counts. Once this becomes easier you can work your way up to the 4-in, 2-hold, 6-out pattern.


Top tips

Like learning any new skill, you need to practice and stick at it in order to develop this new breathing habit. The more you do it, the easier it will become and the more natural it will start to feel.

If you’d like to monitor your progress over time, you can track your breathing rate to see how this new breathing technique is taking effect. You can do this by keeping a record of your breathing rate 3 times per day. To check your breathing rate, count how many breaths you naturally take in one minute. With regular practice of this breathing technique, you should start to see an improvement over time, and begin to feel improvements in your levels of stress and anxiety.



If you have any questions about this breathing technique, or other ways in which you can manage stress and anxiety, please feel free to contact me.

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