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​Deep Breathing to Relieve Acute Stress

Deep breathing is a technique that allows you to calm your mind and reduce the concentration of stress hormones in your blood, which can contribute to the enhancement of your health. Deep breathing helps you calm down rapidly, think more clearly and focus on what you are doing.

Use this technique when something happens that you find disturbing, causing you to feel an increased amount of anxiety and stress. It's even helpful for children who have difficulty keeping calm.

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For more information about UPMC's Healthy Lifestyle Program, call 800-533-8762.

Or, e-mail Dr. Bruce RabinDirector, Healthy Lifestyle Program, at

How Deep Breathing Works

Deep breathing allows you to rapidly increase the amount of oxygen in your blood to a much greater extent than when you breathe naturally by expanding the wall of your chest.

When you take an abdominal breath and increase the amount of oxygen in your blood, your brain detects the increased oxygen and responds by decreasing the concentration of stress hormones in the blood.

How to Perform Deep Breathing

  1. Put your right hand on your abdomen at the navel. Put your left hand on the center of your chest. You may find it helpful to close your eyes.
  2. Make one or two full exhalations.
  3. Take a deeper inhalation than usual. Focus on the rising of the abdomen as the lungs fill with air and the diaphragm flattens down, causing the belly to rise.
  4. You should feel your stomach rising about an inch as you breathe in, and falling about an inch as you breathe out. Most of the movement should be in the lower (left) hand; the right hand on the chest should move only slightly.

Deep Breathing Tips

  • The trick to shifting from chest to abdominal breathing is to make one or two full exhalations — pushing the air out from the bottom of the lungs to create a vacuum that will pull in an abdominal breath on your next inhalation — pause, then inhale slowly.
  • Nostril breathing is generally recommended, but if you're more comfortable breathing through your mouth, do so.
  • You should not take more than five deep breaths. If you feel a little dizzy, take fewer deep breaths.
  • If you experience an acute stressor that lasts for several hours, only use abdominal breathing intermittently, not all the time. Take three to five deep breaths to calm yourself and then breathe regularly. When you again feel anxious, take three to five more deep breaths.