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De-Stress with This Easy Breathing Technique You Can Do Right Now

January 17, 2018

Laurel Roe, MS CHR, MFT, has a background in education and particularly enjoys working with families with members who have special needs, parenting issues, childhood developmental concerns, and anxiety in children, teens, and adults. 

“As long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than wrong with you.”

Jon Kabat-Zin

I hear many people describe “feeling stressed out,” but what does that actually mean?

The word stress is a short-hand way for us to describe feelings of anxiety, exhaustion, helplessness, or a combination of all three. We face stress daily in the forms of financial and job concerns, relationship issues, health problems, political debates, and worries about aging, to only name a few! In many ways, stress seems to be in the driver’s seat while we are merely passengers going along for the ride.

Everyone experiences stress in different ways.

Some people describe an inability to stop thinking about their long to-do list when trying to fall asleep at night. Others describe constant feelings of uncertainty about the future. Still others describe a range of physical sensations such as of muscle stiffness or upset stomachs.

These thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations often lead us to short term solutions: we may work longer hours to get things done, for example, or we may have an extra cocktail in the evening to unwind. While these strategies seem to be helpful in the moment, they often are ineffective in reducing the overall levels of stress we feel. In fact, they may even make things worse over time.

Our bodies are hard-wired to look for perceived threats in the world around us and alert us when we need to be careful in order to stay safe. This is where stress comes from: it is a biological response to what is happening in our world. So it makes sense that stress is not always a bad thing. It is what prompts us to scan our surroundings when we walk in an unlit parking lot late at night, and it helps us meet deadlines at work.

In many ways stress is inevitable.  The ways we react to it, however, are not.

One of the simplest and most effective ways to help manage our stress responses is to breathe. Taking a few moments throughout the course of each day to focus on your breath in a deliberate way can have a variety of benefits that not only feel good immediately, but over time, can lead to long-term benefits.

Start by taking a few moments throughout the course of your day to pause and take a few breaths. While seated, place both feet on the ground with your hands easily in your lap or at your sides, and breathe like you normally do. You can try this with eyes open or eyes closed (whatever feels most comfortable to you). Take a series of 5 breaths, one after the other. Pay attention to your breath as it goes into your body…then as it goes out.  Remember — there is no right or wrong way to breathe! Simply observe what it feels like to do this.

Now be curious:  how can you use breath throughout your day to help you manage stress?  Perhaps beginning or ending each day with this simple, conscious breathing exercise is a good place to start. If five breaths feels comfortable, explore what 10 breaths feels like. You may discover you prefer breathing outside, for example, or in a favorite chair. What happens if you do this activity before every meal, or each time you walk through your front door? Whatever you discover, each time you engage in this breathing activity you have an opportunity to de-stress. Minimizing our stress response really can be as simple as breathing.


Laurel Roe, MS CHR, MFT practices at our Bryn Mawr and Paoli locations. Request an appointment today with Laurel today!