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Relaxation Exercise: Deep Breathing

Deep breathing is a good way to relax. We don’t always remember to breathe deeply. Most adults breathe from the chest, which is known as shallow breathing. When you breathe deeply, your body takes in more oxygen. You exhale more carbon dioxide. Your body naturally “resets” itself to a more relaxed and calm state.

Deep breathing can be useful for anyone who has stress. You can practice deep breathing during your workday when you’re feeling stressed or anxious. And you can choose to take a couple minutes and breathe deeply each day, or just use it when you need it.

Deep breathing doesn’t just work for handling day-to-day stress. It can be especially helpful to Veterans and civilians who‘ve experienced traumatic events (such as military combat or a civilian assault). Deep breathing can help you cope with the stress from these events. Symptoms such as anxiety, “panic” or feeling “stuck in alarm mode” often respond well to deep breathing. To learn more about posttraumatic stress or learn about treatment, visit the National Center for PTSD website at

Deep Breathing

This exercise only takes a few minutes and can be performed anywhere. Nobody has to know you’re doing it.

You may do this exercise with your eyes open or closed. If you’ve gone through traumatic stress you may find that keeping eyes open helps you to stay “grounded” in the “here and now.” Do what’s most comfortable for you.

Here’s how to do it
  1. Sit comfortably or lie down.
  2. Place one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest.
  3. Breathe in slowly through your nose.
  4. Feel your stomach expand as you inhale. If you are breathing from the stomach, the hand on your chest shouldn’t move.
  5. Focus on filling up your lower lungs with air.
  6. Slowly exhale, releasing all the air out through your mouth.
  7. Use your hand to feel your stomach fall as you exhale.
  8. Practice breathing four to six breaths per minute (about one full inhale and exhale per 10-15 seconds).
  9. Repeat this up to 10 times.

If you begin to get lightheaded, return to your normal breathing.

Try deep breathing now and notice the difference it can make.

These materials were developed by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) in collaboration with Aetna Inc. (“Aetna”). These materials may be reproduced for use within your practice. These materials do not constitute medical diagnostic or treatment advice and are intended only to supplement information generally available to health care professionals with more specific information about the unique attributes, needs and services available to Veterans. Health care providers (other than VA employees) using these materials are solely responsible for the health care they deliver to patients and shall not be deemed agents or employees of the VA or Aetna. These materials are not intended for use by the general public.