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3 Types Of Breathing To Ground Yourself When In Distress

When you are in alcohol and drug rehab, you learn the importance of breathing. Breathing is something we all do automatically, but when done with intention, it can be used to manage your feelings and cravings.


Breathing has a number of purposes when you are in distress. At its simplest, it is a way of focusing your mind on something fundamental to life. By doing this, you can divert your attention away from distressing thoughts or panic.

But it is not just an exercise in attention. Breathing can ground you, bringing awareness to what is going on in your body without getting swept up in it.

While breathing can be a complex exercise of self-discovery, you can begin with some simple types of breathing just to ground yourself when in distress.

1. Square breathing

Square breathing is an incredibly simple but effective way of grounding yourself. The key with all these exercises is that you do not need to shut your mind off. That is probably not going to help, as the sense of distress will not let up that easily. Simply focusing on a type of breathing gives you an alternative route out of distress.

With square breathing you do the following:

  • inhale for a count of 5
  • hold for a count of 5
  • exhale for a count of 5
  • hold for a count of 5
  • start again

You can choose to count a different number if you prefer. The key is that you are breathing fully and focusing on keeping it consistent.

2. Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is a type of breathing that changes the source of your breathing. Instead of pulling air in with your nose or mouth, you raise your diaphragm (or abdomen). To exhale, you simply contract your diaphragm again.

Diaphragmatic breathing is useful because it helps you reframe your breath as a function of your body, rather than staying in your head and chest. It also gives the body more power, which is why it is used by singers and in yoga practice.

With a sense of power in your body, you are better able to manage the distressing emotions and feel grounded in yourself.

3. 4-7-8 breathing

4-7-8 breathing is a popular method of breathing that helps with relaxation. It is as simple as it sounds:

  • inhale for a count of 4
  • hold for a count of 7
  • exhale for a count of 8
  • start again

Always inhale through your nose. You can exhale through your nose or mouth, depending on what feels more relaxing for you.

Breath work in rehab can be an effective means of self-exploration. But on a simpler level, you can use it as an effective means of calming and grounding yourself when you feel in distress.

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