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Breathing exercises for older adults to cope with stress

Morning breathing routines

If you wake up in the morning and feel as if you need to stretch and take a deep breath then you’re not alone. Most of us wake up and feel that we need to elongate ourselves after being in bed, and our body usually tells us what it requires to start the day effectively. Even if you’re not able to exercise you may still be able to do breathing exercises that can help you to feel better and more relaxed, and it may also relieve muscle stiffness or cramping. Starting your day properly is essential regardless of your condition and trying some different breathing techniques to see what suits you may be useful, providing your medical practitioner agrees it could be beneficial.

1) Begin by standing upright, then slowly bend at the waist, keeping your knees slightly bent to reduce stiffness in your legs. Let your arms hang loosely.

2) Breath in deeply and gently move back to an upright position, keeping your head down until you are standing straight again.

3) Taking a moment to recover, slowly bend forward again, exhaling while you do so.

Focused breathing

Focussed breathing can also be a very useful tool that can help you to relax and deal with stress. Some people practice meditation as a way of centring themselves and coping with life’s difficulties and to become more tuned in to how they are feeling, and focussed breathing can also help with this. Letting your mind wander is also an effective method for some people so you must choose what works for you.

1) Lie down, or sit if it’s better for you

2) Close your eyes

3) Breath in normally and exhale

4) Take a deeper, filling breath, then slowly exhale

5) Continue taking deeper breaths and concentrate on each one. Notice how your breathing calms your mind.

If you wish to discover more about meditation, there are many sites online that offer mantras to follow.

Pursed-lip breathing

Pursed-lip breathing can be helpful if you are living with a condition that causes breathing difficulties, such as COPD. It can also help with feelings of anxiety, but it’s important to talk to your medical practitioner about whether breathing exercises are right for you. This is because the pursed-lip technique slows down your breathing, but it should also make it easier to breathe ultimately.

1) Breath in through your nose

2) Purse your lips as if you are going to whistle or blow a candle out

3) Keeping your lips pursed, breathe out gently through your mouth

4) Repeat the technique

Breathing routine when in pain

Our breathing can be affected when we are in pain, as we may breathe shallowly or even hold our breath when pain strikes. Unfortunately, this is counter-productive, as it can actually make pain worse by increasing the stress response. Deep breathing increases relaxation which in turn can help with pain management in some circumstances.

1) Get into the most comfortable position you can

2) Breathe deeply and slowly, focussing on your breathing

3) Fill your abdomen with your breath and concentrate on how it feels

4) Exhale slowly, concentrating on the sensation of the air leaving your body

Types of breathing exercises

Complete Breathing

Sit up as straight as you can, exhale, then relax your stomach muscles and inhale. Feel your abdomen fill with air and hold it for a moment, then exhale slowly, pulling your belly in until the air has left your lungs. Close your eyes and concentrate on breathing this way for a few minutes. As with all of the techniques it’s worth chatting through them with your medical practitioner.

Humming Breathing

Follow the instructions for ‘Complete Breathing’ above, but when you exhale, hum as you release the air from your lungs.

Chinese Breathing

Tai-Chi is a Chinese practice that can help you to relax and feel more in-tune with your body, and this breathing technique comes from there. Take three short breaths in, raising your arms in front of you to shoulder height on the first breath, then pull them out to the sides on the second breath, before raising them above your head on the third. Then slowly exhale and lower your arms to their starting position. It’s important to only attempt this exercise if you are physically able to, and to stop immediately if you feel light-headed at any point.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

This technique is perfect if you have to remain lying on your back. You should place one hand on your navel and the other above it on your stomach. Concentrate on breathing from your diaphragm and if you’re doing it correctly the hand on your navel should rise before the hand above it. Relax and keep breathing this way for five minutes.

Feet Breathing

This breathing technique will help you to relax as you visualise tension leaving your body. Concentrate on your breathing as you breath in deeply at a normal speed, while allowing your mind to clear completely. As you exhale, visualise your tension, stress, and anxiety travelling down to your feet and leaving your body. Keep doing the technique until you are totally relaxed.

Buteyko Breathing

If you are living with a breathing condition such as asthma, this technique may be helpful. As with all the other techniques it’s important to discuss it with your healthcare professional before you try it. You need to be in a comfortable position in a quiet place where you can relax, and instead of deep breaths, this time you will take shallow breaths in through your nose slowly. This can help to reduce the grasping, rapid breaths that can happen in an asthma attack or when someone feels rising panic.

If you are struggling with ways to relax and keep stress at bay, having a regular carer from Helping Hands supporting you might make all the difference to your daily life. We offer care from just 30 minutes per week on a visiting and live-in basis, so talk to us today if we can help you live your most independent life in the home you love.

Page reviewed by Kerry Whittingham, Regional Clinical Lead on February 3, 2023