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Breathe Your Way to Better Mental Health
Mental Health

Breathe Your Way to Better Mental Health

By Allison White-Stewart, LCSW
Posted: January 29, 2024

Did you know that intentional breathing exercises can reduce anxiety and depression, manage blood pressure, improve sleep, and change the immune system? That’s right. Research shows that breathing intentionally has many mental and physical benefits. Breathing helps our mind and body work together to regulate our emotions and improve our overall health.

Breathwork isn’t a new phenomenon. It has ancient roots, and you can find early indications of conscious breathing in Hindu scriptures dating back thousands of years, between the 2nd century BCE and the 2nd century CE. Present day breathwork can be found in yoga, mindfulness activities and meditation exercises.

The best part about breathwork is that you can do it anytime, anywhere. You can practice it in your car on the way to work, at home on the couch or anywhere you please.

Breathing Exercises to Improve Your Mental Health

Here are a few basic breathing exercises to get you started:

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing, or “belly breathing,” is done by contracting the diaphragm. One technique, developed by Dr. Daniel Amen, can work to bring your mind to a calm state by exhaling twice as long as inhaling. Practice by breathing in for 4 seconds, holding for 1 second, then exhaling for 8 seconds. Repeat a few times for maximum benefit.

Simple Breathing

Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. Keep your shoulders relaxed. Your abdomen should expand, and your chest should rise very little. Exhale slowly through your mouth. As you blow air out, purse your lips slightly but keep your jaw relaxed. You may hear a soft “whooshing” sound as you exhale. 

Pursed-lip Breathing

Take a breath in slowly through your nose for two seconds. Keep your mouth closed. Purse your lips like you were about to whistle or sip through a straw. Exhale through your mouth while counting to four.


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Healthy Lifestyle Choices to Improve Breathing

It’s important to remember that people can improve their breathing by maintaining a healthful lifestyle. Below are just a few ways you can improve your lifestyle to positively affect your breathing and mental health.

Regular Exercise

Regular aerobic exercise helps improve lung capacity, the amount of oxygen a person can take in with each breath.

Avoiding Large Meals

Eating large meals can cause abdominal bloating. When the abdomen is bloated, it can press against the diaphragm, preventing it from efficiently moving up and down. This can lead to shortness of breath. If you are prone to bloating, opt for smaller, more frequent meals.

Maintaining a Healthy Weight

Being overweight increases a person’s risk of experiencing breathing difficulties. People can reduce this risk by maintaining a healthy weight.

Quitting Smoking

The lungs contain tiny air sacs called alveoli, which are responsible for exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide between the lungs and capillary blood vessels. Smoking damages the alveoli, making them less efficient.

It’s important to remember that with any activity, consistency is key. The more you practice, the more beneficial it will be. Studies have shown that practicing an intentional breathing exercise for just 5 minutes daily benefits your health. So, Stay Calm and Breathe On.

If you need help managing stress, anxiety or depression and want to explore more ways to foster good mental and physical health, contact EAP. We are here for you.

Call our offices at 901-683-5658 or visit us online at

Allison White-Stewart, LCSW

Allison White-Stewart, LCSW

Living Well Network Supervisor

Allison White-Stewart is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She received her bachelor’s degree in social work from Mississippi State University and her master’s degree in social work from Jackson State University. She has over 20 years of experience working with children and adults in various settings, including community mental health, school-based counseling, adult and juvenile justice, and therapeutic foster care. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling and spending time with her family.