Breathing as a secret to effectively coping with stress - why does this work?

Written By
Theresa Schachner

Stress - we all know what it is, how it feels, and that most of us probably experience it more or less experience it everyday. So what, you might say? I’m used to it.


But what we’re less aware of is how detrimental it really is for our mental well-being and long-term health. Severe stress leads to first headaches, problems with focusing, sleeping disorders, and making bad decisions, just to name a few. If prolonged over a continuous period of days and weeks, stress can cause high blood pressure, strokes, and even heart attacks.


And what even fewer people know is that the overwhelming feeling and negative effects of stress can be controlled with some very effective, yet easy-to-learn techniques. While meditation and emotional intelligence do help, we all how hard it is “to just relax” when we are in the middle of a stress storm. Instead of hoping to become a zen master or completely surrender to stress, we suggest trying out some breathing exercises.


Breathing allows us to gain some mastery over our minds. By changing the rhythm of our breath, we can directly signal to our brain. A slower breath rhythm signals relaxation, which leads to a reduced heart rate and a simulation of the vagus nerve. This nerve runs from the brainstem to the abdomen and is part of the so-called parasympathetic nervous system, known for “rest & digest” (as opposed to the sympathetic “fight& flight” nervous system). And it’s not hard to imagine that when the “rest& digest” system gets activated, our body starts to calm down. The feeling of “fight & flight” - stress - fades off. We feel better and calmer. We can think more rationally again.


A simple exercise of how breathing can calm you down at times of stress is changing the ratio of inhaling and exhaling. When we inhale, our heart rate speeds up. When we exhale, it slows down. The longer we exhale, the more our heart rate slows down and the calmer we feel. To give you some guidance - try breathing in for a count of four and out for a count of eight. Just a few minutes of breathing with this ratio will immediately calm down your nervous system. And your stress levels fall and fall and fall…


For learning more about the mystery of why prolonged exhaling is so powerful, visit our other blogs. For personalized guided breathing exercises, try out the Chojuu app.

Live better - breath by breath.