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Breathing exercises

Many of us have experienced stress at some point in our lives. A breathing exercise is one way to help reduce the feelings of stress.


Understanding stress

Stress is common among Australians, with over half of us experiencing at least one personal stressor in the last 12 months.[1]

Stress can be caused by internal or external factors. And what is stressful for one person may not be stressful for another. Some examples of what can cause stress include:

  • Feeling under pressure.
  • Not able to meet the demands placed on you.
  • Being worried you might fail.
  • Not having control over a situation.
  • Experiencing significant changes in your life.

When we are stressed, we may feel angry, frustrated, afraid, worried, or overwhelmed. We may find it hard to concentrate or unable to enjoy ourselves.

If left unchecked, stress can also start to impact our physical health (e.g. blood pressure, fatigue) and mental health (e.g. anxiety). Read our article to understand more about the symptoms and effects of stress.


Breathing exercises for when you are feeling stressed

Typically, when we are stressed, our breathing changes to short and shallow breaths, which can cause us to feel worse.

Over the years, research has shown that breathing exercises can help manage stress, with controlled and gentle breathing helping you to relax.[2]

You can try a range of breathing exercises, and we’ve compiled a few below to get you started.


Simple exercise to focus on your breath

If you are trying breathing exercises for the first time, the exercise below can help you practise focusing on your breathing.

    1. Find a quiet spot – you can sit or lie down
    2. Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose
    3. Let your chest and belly expand as you fill your lungs
    4. Exhale slowly through your mouth.

Repeat the exercise above for a few minutes. Focusing on breathing can help you disengage from stressful thoughts and feelings.


Counting your breath exercise

    1. Count 1 as you breathe in slowly through your nose
    2. Count 2 as you breathe out slowly through your mouth
    3. Count 3 as you breathe in slowly through your nose
    4. Count 4 as you breathe out slowly through your mouth.

You can do these in repetitions of four or set a timer on your phone. While counting your breath, take the time to notice your breaths and the counting. If your mind wanders, bring it gently back to the breaths and counting.


Box breathing exercise

    1. Find a quiet spot – you can sit or lie down
    2. Close your eyes and try to relax your mind
    3. Relax your shoulders, jaw, and any tense muscles
    4. Breathe in slowly to a count of four
    5. Hold your breath for four seconds
    6. Slowly exhale through your mouth to a count of four
    7. Hold your breath for four seconds before starting again.

You can repeat the steps a few times. If four seconds is too long, start with two seconds.


Breathing exercises aren’t for everyone. If you find them difficult or uncomfortable, look for other ways to relax, such as taking a break, spending time in nature, or doing something you enjoy.

If you are concerned about stress levels, give one of our CAREinMIND counsellors a call on 1300 096 269 or make an appointment to see your doctor.


If you are struggling and need to reach out to a mental health professional, our CAREinMIND counsellors are here to help 24/7. Call 1300 096 269 or click the floating chat button on the right. The service is free for people in north, western and central Melbourne.

The CAREinMIND blog is delivered by Lifeline. The views in each post do not necessarily reflect those of North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network.



[1] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2022). Stress and trauma. Retrieved from

[2] Ma X, Yue ZQ, Gong ZQ, Zhang H, Duan NY, Shi YT, Wei GX, Li YF. The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Front Psychol. 2017 Jun 6;8:874. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874. PMID: 28626434; PMCID: PMC5455070.