Let’s face it – it’s hard to feel stressed and productive at the same time.

It’s almost impossible for me to write, for example, if I’m feeling stressed. It’s also pretty difficult for me to function as a human being; I often feel irritated, anxious, and on-edge, which negatively impacts my well being, my work, and my relationships.

The antidote? Shaking off stress at a cellular level, baby.

Deep breathing is simple, quick, and super effective at combatting stress. It’s also a lot healthier for us than many other coping strategies (such as pacifying ourselves with our phone, Netflix, or junk food).

And the best part? You can literally do this anywhere, any time – without looking like a total weirdo.

Why breathing techniques work

Deep breathing exercises help trick our body into relaxation.

Think about the times you normally breathe deeply. Most likely, it’s when you’re about to fall asleep, when you’re actually asleep, and when you’re chilling out.

Stress switches up this rhythm.

When we’re stressed, our breathing tends to become more shallow, and concentrates in our chest, rather than our stomach.

We stop moving as much yummy oxygen around our body, because we’re not getting enough of it into our system.

These techniques help us resolve this in an instant.

Technique #1: belly breathing

We’ll start off with the basics of deep breathing, and then get progressively more fun (and outrageous) with techniques #2 and #3.

The aim of this technique is to retrain your body to inhale and exhale fully, using the belly as your main point of focus.

The more you practice this, the easier and more natural it will feel.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Put one hand on your belly (subtly, if you’re in public and feel embarrassed about groping yourself).
  2. Take the deepest breath you’ve taken all day, inhaling through your nose.
  3. Direct the breath into your belly, and focus on this sensation.
  4. Feel your belly expand as it naturally pushes your hand out. If it doesn’t move, you’re not breathing deeply enough.
  5. Exhale through your mouth, moving the breath from your stomach up to your mouth. So you’re breathing in through your nose, and out from your stomach.

Repeat for 10 cycles of breath, or until you feel noticeably more relaxed.

As you breathe, remember to visualise the breath moving in to, and out from, your stomach. Try it (trust me).

Technique #2: alternate nostril breathing

Once you’ve tried out some deep belly breathing (and hopefully enjoyed it), you can mix it up with alternate nostril breaths.

This is one of my absolute favourite techniques for a super quick relaxation fix.

If you want to feel instantly calmer, this works like a charm.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Make one hand into a “hang loose” sign, with your thumb and little finger pointed, and the rest of your fingers curled over.
  2. Close off one nostril with your thumb, then inhale deeply through the other nostril, keeping your mouth closed.
  3. Hold the breath for 5 seconds and simultaneously switch fingers, using your little finger to close off the other nostril.
  4. Exhale through the open nostril.
  5. Inhale through the same open nostril, then hold the breath for 5 seconds, switch fingers again, close the other nostril with your thumb, and exhale through the open nostril.

Repeat for 10 cycles of breath, or until you feel noticeably more relaxed.

Giving our brain task helps us move our attention away from any stressful thoughts, worries, or dramas that might otherwise pop into our head.

Technique #3: lion’s breathing

Okay, okay… so I know I promised that you wouldn’t look like a total weirdo – but this one might draw some strange glances if you do it in public. You’ve been warned.

This technique is fantastic for releasing stress. Because of that, it’s a little louder and more boisterous.

The louder and more boisterous we get with this one, the more we get from it (I promise).

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Inhale deeply through your nose.
  2. Hold the breath for 5 seconds.
  3. Exhale deeply through your mouth, emptying out your exhale whilst sticking your tongue out as far as you can.
  4. Inhale again, hold for 5 seconds, and repeat the same exhale – only this time, add an audible sigh and really let go. The more noise you allow yourself to release, the better.
  5. For extra crazy-looking bonus points, roll your eyes up to your forehead as you exhale (towards your third eye, which is the point between the eyebrows).

Repeat for 5 cycles of breath, or until you feel you’ve fully ‘let go’.

This is by far the best technique for truly shaking off any excess negative energy and stress we’ve accumulated throughout the day.

If you’re feeling especially brave, try it out in public too (and please send pictures).

When to use breathing techniques

I use these techniques every day. I do them when I wake up, on my lunch break, on my return commute home from work; basically, whenever I need it.

If we’re feeling overwhelmed, deep breathing can help get us in the right headspace.

Try using them:

  • On your commute home from work
  • Before an important meeting or presentation
  • If you feel yourself getting snappy or impatient with someone
  • When you can feel a conflict arising between you and a loved one
  • Just as you’ve woken up
  • Right before you go to bed

Any time you notice your stress levels rising, you can use these breathing techniques for instant stress relief.