Managing stress through Belly Breathing

06 Apr 2020
Caroline O'Mahony

Jessie Barr is a Performance Psychologist at the Sport Ireland Institute working with a number of sports including Cycling Ireland, the Irish Sailing Association and Swim Ireland.  Jessie is currently working with High Performance athletes and helping them to navigate their way through the current situation. The advice below is a step by step guide to belly breathing and the benefits of focusing on breathing to control stress and anxiety. 

Many of us are feeling stressed and anxious at the moment as a result of the uncertainty and lack of control that we have over our daily lives. Our bodies react to stress in a number of different ways, both physically and mentally:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Breathing becomes quick and shallow
  • Butterflies in our stomach
  • We lose concentration
  • Thoughts begin to race

This stress response keeps our immune system from working at full capacity. If we are feeling stressed over long periods of time, we can become more susceptible to picking up illnesses and injuries.

One of the first ways we can help to reduce stress in our bodies is by focusing on our breathing. Many of us breathe just using our chests and do not use our belly, which is a habit we pick up as we age. As babies, we all breathed using our bellies. This is also the way we tend to breathe when we sleep as it is the more natural way to breathe.

Belly breathing, also known and diaphragmatic breathing or abdominal breathing is a deep breathing technique that engages your diaphragm. This type of deep breathing encourages full oxygen exchange, it can slow the heartbeat and lower, stabilize blood pressure and as a result, reduces stress.

Practice belly breathing a few times a day until it starts to feel more natural. Then the next time you are feeling stressed, take a few moments to belly breathe to help you relax and take back control.