Wellness tip: Combatting stress one breath at a time

Putting the abdomen to work with mindful breathing can help combat the body’s stress response

“Take a deep breath” may not be the thing we want to hear when we’re stressed beyond control but, as it turns out, practicing deep and controlled breathing actually works to slow the heart rate, stabilize blood pressure and promote relaxation1.

Sometimes called diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, paced respiration, box breathing or belly breathing, deep breathing promotes full oxygen exchange, according to experts at Harvard Health. This means that incoming oxygen replaces outgoing carbon dioxide entirely.

Medical News Today states deep breathing or box breathing can help regulate the fight-or-flight response triggered when experiencing high stress2. Sustained high stress can have deleterious health consequences, including high blood pressure, headaches, stroke and cardiovascular issues.

While deep breathing may not feel natural or comfortable, creating a routine in which you can practice intentional, controlled breathwork for 10 to 20 minutes each day could be an effective tool against stress. One deep breathing exercise from Psych Central involves breathing in slowly for four seconds, holding for four seconds, breathing out for four seconds until there is no air left in the lungs, then holding for another four seconds before starting the cycle over again3. The exercise works best when completed three or four times.


[1] Harvard Health (2020). “Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response.” Accessed July 31, 2023, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response.

[2] Stinson, A (2023). “What is box breathing?” Medical News Today. Accessed July 31, 2023, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321805.

[3] Fishman, S., NCC, CRC (2023). “Box Breathing: Mental Health Benefits and Tips for Beginners.” Psych Central by Healthline Media. Accessed July 31, 2023, from https://psychcentral.com/health/box-breathing.