The Covid-19 pandemic has given rise to a plethora of new anxious feelings and fears. As South Africa’s lockdown continues, after being extended for another two weeks, more and more citizens are becoming concerned about their loss of income, health and safety. In several cases, these concerns are accompanied by a growing sense of stress and anxiety. If you’re feeling anxious right now, qualified nurse and mindfulness teacher Debbie Lyn Toomey suggests you try breathing exercises to help reduce your stress…
“When we are stressed, our breathing gets impacted,” says Debbie. “It becomes faster and shallower, activating our sympathetic nervous system, which is our flight or fight response. Fortunately, we can consciously change our response from stress to relaxation by just changing the way we breathe.”
Debbie explains that altering the pattern or rate of your breathing will activate a rest and digest response instead of an uncomfortable flight or fight response. Here are a few stress-relieving breathing exercises you can try at home if you’re feeling anxious right now.
The 2:1 breathing exercise
The 2:1 breathing technique involves exhaling at a duration that is twice as along as inhaling.
To perform this exercise, find a comfortable place to either sit or stand. Choose a small number (either two, three or four) and breathe in through your nose while slowly counting to that number. After the count is over, breathe out through your nose for double the amount of numbers you counted. This means if you inhale for three seconds, you must exhale for six seconds. Continue to do this exercise until the rate of your breathing feels steady again. Feel free to increase or decrease the number of counts you start with as you repeat each cycle.
Watch this video in which Debbie demonstrates how to do the 2:1 breathing technique:
Our eleventh tip for looking after your #mentalhealth is to take deep breaths if your feeling stressed. Taking just a few moments each day to practice deep breathing exercises can decrease stress, relax your mind, body and can help you sleep better. #mentalhealthmatters #RYC2020 pic.twitter.com/m8l8REeh5x
— Rotherham Youth Cabinet (@Rotherham_YC) April 6, 2020
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The alternate nostril breathing technique
Dr John Clarke, from Yoga International, says breathing techniques facilitate relaxation. He explains that it regulates the motion of the lungs, which subsequently quiets both the nervous system and energy fields that influence the body and mind. Breathing exercises therefore help to stabilise the mind and make you feel more serene.
Alongside the 2:1 breathing technique, Dr Clarke also recommends using the alternate nostril breathing method.
To perform this exercise, find a comfortable place and position to sit in. Start by first paying attention to your natural breathing pattern by slowly inhaling and exhaling through the nose. Begin to alternate which nostril you inhale and exhale through by sealing one nostril with the tip of one finger (either the thumb or ring finger).
At the start, seal your right nostril with the tip of one finger while breathing in through the left nostril for a few seconds. After inhaling, hold your breath slightly as you move your fingertip over to the left nostril and then slowly breathe out through the right nostril. Keep your left nostril sealed as you now breathe in through the right nostril. Hold your inhale slightly as you move your fingertip to seal your right nostril before exhaling through the left nostril.
Repeat this cycle by alternating which nostril you seal. You can continue to do this as many times as you like until you begin to feel relaxed.
Watch this video in which international yoga teacher Adriene Mishler demonstrates the alternate nostril breathing exercise:
The belly breathing method
Sport and performance psychologist Jessie Barr agrees that most of us are feeling stressed or anxious at the moment, because of the uncertainty and lack of control over our daily lives. If you feel your heart is racing right now, or you’re struggling to concentrate, try Jessie’s guide to belly breathing. This breathing technique will help reduce your stress levels and make you feel more relaxed.
In order to perform this exercise, find a comfortable position either sitting upright or laying down on your back. Remember to keep your shoulders relaxed. Place one hand on your chest and one hand over your belly button. Breathe in deeply through your nose for at least four seconds. Focus on expanding your belly as you breathe in so that your hand on your chest remains fairly still. Hold your breath slightly before slowly exhaling for four seconds. Focus on your belly becoming smaller while breathing out (either through the nose or mouth). Repeat this cycle at least five times, or until you feel more calm.
Watch this video in which the belly breathing exercise is demonstrated:
The pursed lips breathing trick
Holistic Nutritionist Meghan Livingstone recommends the pursed lips breathing exercise as a way to manage stress and sudden anxious feelings. This technique relies on pursing the lips like you’re about to blow out a candle. This will enable you to breathe out at a much slower pace.
To perform this exercise, find a comfortable place to sit or lay down. Breathe in through the nose for four seconds and then exhale through pursed lips until all the air has naturally flown out. Repeat this exercise as often as you’d like to, or until you feel more relaxed.
Watch this video in which Meghan demonstrates the pursed lips breathing exercise:
The square breathing method
Psychotherapist Paige Pradko suggests individuals try the square breathing method to help attain a greater sense of calm. According to Paige, deep breathing exercises are highly effective for reducing anxiety in the body.
To perform the square breathing method, find a comfortable position to sit in. Relax your shoulders and pay attention to your natural breathing pattern. Similar to a square that has four sides, this exercise has four steps.
- Slowly breathe in through your nose to the count of four.
- Hold your breath completely for four seconds.
- Slowly exhale through your mouth to the count of four (or to the count of eight if you’d like to extend it).
- Hold your breath again for four seconds.
Repeat this cycle as often as you’d like to and remember to focus on bringing air into the lower part of your lungs in order to avoid shallow breathing. Paige even recommends performing this exercise every hour if you’re feeling extremely anxious.
Watch the video in which Paige demonstrates square breathing:
Need a moment to yourself this Monday? Breathe with the square:
— Stamp Out Stigma (@StampStigma) April 6, 2020
ALSO SEE: How To Relax Right Now
Breathing exercises are wonderful anti-anxiety tools to keep in your pocket at all times. They reduce your heart rate and bring you into a relaxed state almost instantly. And, since the Covid-19 outbreak has ushered in lockdown regulations, having a calming strategy to turn to might be the helping hand you need.
These breathing methods will relax your muscles and alleviate your stress and anxiety. If you’re not sure when to perform them, make at least one of the techniques part of your daily self-care routine. You could even incorporate it into your night-time regimen, or make it a morning ritual before breakfast.
Whatever time or place you prefer, remember to look after yourself during this time. It’s natural to feel stressed amid a global crisis, so take comfort in the knowledge that you are not alone.
Visit the World Health Organisation’s website for factual updates on the Covid-19 pandemic.
ALSO SEE: All Your Covid-19 Questions Answered
By Features Writer, Marike Watson