Breathing strategies to support wellbeing
Breathing exercises are an easy way to help calm the mind and body. They provide an alternative focus from what is causing distress.
The following techniques can help ease feelings of high anxiety, panic and worry for autistic children and young people, and their parents and carers.
Why do breathing exercises?
Fear, anxiety and stress make our bodies go into flight, fight or freeze mode. This is also known as the Threat Response System. Understanding this system can help us to self-regulate through strategies like breathing and other mindfulness activities.
Doing the exercises listed below, helps both children and adults return to a calm and sensible state, re-engaging the brain and helping us to think clearly, act reasonably and stay safe.
Balloon breathing for young children
Watch this video to follow breathing exercises at a slow and calm pace.
Box breathing, or four-square breathing, is a powerful yet simple relaxation technique. It can heighten performance and concentration while also being a powerful stress reliever.
Step one: slowly exhale
Sitting upright, slowly exhale through your mouth, getting all the oxygen out of your lungs. Focus on this intention and be conscious of what you are doing.
Step two: slowly inhale
Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose to the count of four. In this step, count to four very slowly in your head. Feel the air fill your lungs, one section at a time, until your lungs are completely full, and the air moves into your abdomen.
Step three: hold your breath
Hold your breath for another slow count of four.
Step four: exhale again
Exhale through your mouth for the same slow count of four, expelling the air from your lungs and abdomen. Be conscious of the feeling of the air leaving your lungs.
Watch this video for a step by step guide to box breathing.
Notice five things
This is a simple exercise that can be practiced anytime when thoughts, emotions, attitudes or behaviours start to escalate.
Pause for a moment, look around, and notice five things that you can see. Listen carefully, and notice five things you can hear. Finally, notice five things you can feel in contact with your body.
Watch this video for a guide to the 'Notice five things' exercise.
Three-minute breathing space
The three-minute breathing space is a brief practice intended to be used when thoughts or mood or behaviours spiral in a negative direction and begin to escalate. It can be helpful to think of it as an hourglass, going from a wide perspective of awareness to a more focused one and then back out expanding your awareness.
Watch this video for a demonstration of the three-minute breathing space.
A short meditation on the breath
This short breathing meditation is an exercise to help focus your attention on your breathing. You will notice during this exercise that the mind wanders away from the focus on the breath to thoughts but with practice, this meditation can be used skillfully to help deal with stress, anxiety and negative emotions.
Watch this video as it takes you through a short meditation.
Breathe in for three seconds, hold your breath for four seconds and finally breathe out for five seconds.
Watch this video take you through 3-4-5 breathing.
Jencks’ time progression
The breathing method invented by Beata Jencks, a physiological and clinical psychologist, achieves a deep feeling of rest in less than five minutes.
Watch this video demonstrate the Jenks’ time progression practice.
Find out more about how mindfulness can support all the family, especially those with increased anxiety.
Read our strategies for managing challenging behaviour at home, something that breathing exercises can help to support.