Deep Breathing

The Benefits of Deep Breathing

Breathing moves air into and out of the lungs to bring in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide from the body. While breathing is mostly an unconscious activity, an individual can consciously control his or her breath in a manner to help curb the effects of stress.1

Breathing techniques help the body’s nervous system sense a more relaxed state of being. The vagus nerve is a part of the nervous system that modulates the brain to gut axis. The brain observes the state of the body’s internal organs by the signals the vagus nerve delivers to the brain stem. Deep diaphragmatic breathing can stimulate the vagus nerve and keep it well toned. A toned vagus nerve can help slow down the heart, lower blood pressure, lower cortisol levels, lessen anxiety, regulate moods, and calm down racing thoughts.2

Unchecked stress can have an effect on an individual’s body, mood and behavior. The physical effects of stress can be serious, ranging from feeling agitated and overwhelmed to experiencing insomnia and a compromised immune system. Stress can also exacerbate existing conditions, making them worse or slowing the time to heal.3

Controlled breathing is an action to manage stress, and develop resilience to stress in the future. One study showed that it can improve sustained attention, affect emotion, and lower cortisol levels.4 It can be practiced in a number of ways, including: diaphragmatic breathing (or belly breathing), sitting meditation, hatha yoga, walking meditation, and body scan meditation.5

Learning and practicing controlled breathing is part of a larger Healthy Monday curriculum to lower stress, which includes mindfulness, physical activity, and shifting to the positive. Incorporating healthy habits at the start of the week is an opportunity to make a fresh start.


For more tips and resources to promote DeStress Monday, visit our Resources page.

For more information about how a Monday cue can support behavior change, visit The Monday Campaigns Research page.

[1] Russo, M.A., Santarelli, D.M., O’Rourke, D. 2017. The physiological effects of slow breathing in the healthy human. Breathe.

[2] Bergland, C. 2013. The Neurobiology of Grace Under Pressure. Psychology Today.

[3] Mayo Clinic Staff. 2019. Stress Management,

[4] Ma et al. 2017. The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Front Psychol. 2017 Jun 6;8:874.

[5] Santorelli, S.F. 2014. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): Standards of Practices. Center for Mindfulness, UMass Medical School.