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  • Writer's pictureAysha Frost

How to Reduce Stress and Anxiety: Three-Part Breathing Technique

We can all agree, breathing is quite important! We’ve got to do it.


Do you know how important it really is?

It’s not just about keeping us alive. When we control our breathing, it in turn controls lots of our bodily functions.

  • It lowers your heart rate

  • It helps you relax, lowering the harmful effects of the stress hormone cortisol on your body

  • It helps lower blood pressure

  • It can change how we feel and focus

  • It slows your rate of breathing so that you expend less energy

Who would have thought that something we do every day, and never even think about, could be so powerful?

Ineffective breathing is a common problem in today's modern world, compounded by poor posture and long periods of sitting or driving.

When you breathe shallowly (called “chest breathing”), the air only enters the upper part of your chest and very little enters the lower chest. This causes a lack of oxygen to your blood vessels, which can create strain on your heart and lungs

By learning to breathe deeply we increase the oxygen supply to our brain, which, in turn, helps to decrease stress and anxiety levels.

Three-part breathing technique to reduce stress and anxiety.  Girl blowing dandelion

Quick breathing assessment...

Using your phone, laptop, or anything else with a camera, record yourself taking a really deep breath in and then letting it go.

If you don’t have a camera, you could ask a friend to watch or sit in front of a mirror paying attention to how your body moves.

Watch back the video. What do you notice? What happens to your shoulders when you take that deep breath?

If your shoulders go up, it’s a sign you breathe quite shallowly from the top of your chest. If they don’t, you may have healthier breathing habits.

What is the three-part breath technique?

The “three parts” are the abdomen, diaphragm, and chest. During a three-part breath, you first completely fill your lungs with air, as though you are breathing into your belly, ribcage, and upper chest. Then you exhale completely, reversing the flow.

According to studies, you can inhale and exhale up to seven times as much air during a three-part breath as in a shallow, chest-based breath.

When practised correctly, this technique will energise and rejuvenate your mind and body. Try not to force the breath or to breathe too deeply. It's important for your lungs to feel comfortably full, but not strained. Let your breath be easy and smooth.

How to do the three-part breath technique...

  1. Put your hands on your belly, a couple of inches below your belly button

  2. Take a big breath in and feel your hands moving outwards

  3. Then let the breath go

  4. Repeat three times

We’re going to do that again but this time, as you breathe down into your tummy, feel your ribs move out at the sides.

Have another go…

  1. Put your hands on your belly, a couple of inches below your belly button

  2. Take a big breath in and feel your hands moving outwards

  3. Feel your ribs moving out at the sides

  4. Then let the breath go

  5. Repeat three times

Now, let’s add one more part...

This time you’re going to breathe down into your tummy, feeling the ribs expand to the sides, then roll the breath back up to the top.

  1. Put your hands on your belly, a couple of inches below your belly button

  2. Take a big breath in and feel your hands moving outwards

  3. Feel your ribs moving out at the sides

  4. Roll the breath up to your chest as you carry on breathing in

  5. Then let the breath go

  6. Repeat three times

Extra tip: as you continue to breathe, stay aware of the three-part movement. As you inhale, your belly lifts, your ribs expand, and your chest rises. As you exhale, your chest drops, your ribs contract, and your belly softens and lowers.

Three-part breathing technique to reduce stress and anxiety. Sign saying "and breathe"

The positive effects of three-part breathing

When we breathe shallowly, we only fill the top part of our chest. When we breathe it down into the bottom and use the capacity of our lungs, it triggers the relaxation response.

Numerous studies have shown that controlling our breath has a positive impact. It not only helps lower your heart rate but if practised on a regular basis, it lowers your rate of cortisol.

Cortisol tends to come along when we’re experiencing stress or anxiety. It’s nature’s built-in alarm system. It’s your body’s main stress hormone. It works with certain parts of your brain to control your mood, motivation, and fear. It’s not completely negative, we’ll always have some. We just need to balance it.

Tips on getting started and keeping it going

By practising this breathing technique, you’ll become more aware of how you’re breathing.

Try the following to get yourself into a good routine:

  • Do your exercises in the same place every day. It might be first thing in the morning when you wake up, whilst you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, or before you go to bed at night.

  • Don’t worry if you’re not doing right or enough. This will only cause additional stress. You can watch our Youtube video, for some more tips if you feel like you’re struggling.

  • Clear your mind of the things that are stressing you out. Focus on the sounds and feel of your breathing.

  • Try and do the exercise at least once or twice a day (more if you can). This will help reinforce the habit and it will eventually become natural.

Having a healthy breathing habit will help keep you healthy, reduce stress and anxiety levels.

Keep on practising, and don’t forget to let us know how you’re finding it and how it impacts your life.

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