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Controlled Breathing


Controlled breathing (sometimes called Counted Breathing) is a technique for increasing the oxygen the body needs during times of stress and focusing an individual’s attention on breathing, which puts other thoughts and worries aside for a brief period.

It is extremely helpful in reducing stress and anxiety by decreasing arousal of the sympathetic nervous system. It is also useful in reducing the perception of pain and helping induce sleep when used at bedtime.

It requires no equipment and can be use anywhere. It can be used before, during, and after stressful events.

It can also be taught to children who can count to three.

Like any relaxation / stress management technique, it must be practiced in non-stressful situations, so that it becomes well-learned and can be then used in stressful situations.

  1. Begin by breathing at your current rate and depth.
  2. Inhale through the nose.
  3. Exhale through pursed lips (almost like whistling, but without the sound).
  4. Find the rhythm of your current breathing and count it to yourself.
    “In, two three, out two three. In, two, three, out, two three.” Keep going until you feel relaxed.
  5. Do not try to change the numbers or you may over inflate your lungs and defeat the purpose of the breathing technique. The key in counting is the rhythm.
  6. As you increase the oxygen your body is obtaining, your respiration and heart rate will naturally decrease. Blood pressure and muscle tension will also decrease, leading to greater relaxation.

Alice Q. Libet, Ph.D.