Health and Wellness

Seniors, use mindful breathing to manage stress or anxiety

Try an easy breathing exercise and learn how the technique benefits your health, well-being and focus.

Relaxed senior man meditating in nature with his wife.

Are you often worried, stressed and tense? Mindful breathing — an easy form of meditation that seniors and caregivers can do anywhere — can help. It may seem hard to believe that simple, focused breathing exercises can make a difference, but research shows that mindful breathing offers pain relief, helps reduce depression and boosts positive thinking, among other benefits. Find an easy belly breathing exercise below and learn how seniors can use mindful breathing to manage stress or anxiety.

“Mindful breathing lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, decreases anxiety and stress and improves focus,” says Katelyn Shaw, a Life Enrichment Coordinator at Amica White Rock who leads meditation and yoga classes for seniors in Independent Living and Memory Care. “Residents say they feel relaxed and calm afterward.”

What is mindful breathing?

Mindful breathing is a basic form of mindfulness meditation in which you focus your mind on your in breath and your out breath. That focus can help calm and clear your mind, as well as activate the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as your body’s “rest and digest” system. By tuning into your breath, you relax and pay less attention to your thoughts. Read 6 meditation and mindfulness tips for seniors and How meditation can help seniors sleep better to find out more. “I like to include mindful breathing in seniors’ fitness classes,” says Shaw, adding that meditation skeptics often discover the benefits when it’s framed as “gentle exercise.”

How often should seniors do mindful breathing or meditation?

Everything helps, but five minutes a day is a good place to start. Try setting an alarm to remind you to fit it in, and then consider increasing the duration of your mindfulness meditation sessions to 10, 15 or even 30 minutes. “The morning is a great time for seniors, such as after breakfast,” says Shaw. “It gets your day off to a good start.” 

Try this mindful breathing exercise for seniors to reduce anxiety

Belly breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, is a terrific way for senior meditation beginners to learn how to focus on the breath while relaxing and reducing stress.

Step 1: Begin by lying flat on the floor or a bed or sitting upright in a chair.
Step 2: Place one hand on your belly — over your belly button — and place the other hand over your heart. 
Step 3: Breathe in deeply through your nose and allow your belly to expand under your hand. (Chest movement should be minimal.) This type of breathing avoids shallow chest breathing, while involving your diaphragm more.
Step 4: Breathe out slowly through pursed lips and feel your belly deflate under your hand. You want to hear your breath as you exhale.
Step 5: Repeat this at least three times or up to 10 times. Take your time with each breath and focus on your belly rising and falling. If you find your mind wandering, return to your breath. If you start to feel lightheaded, return to normal breathing.

What if you have trouble focusing during mindful breathing or meditation?

“A lot of people struggle when they first start meditation, because they think their mind has to be absolutely blank — but that’s not realistic,” explains Shaw. “So when you find yourself thinking, let the thoughts go and bring your mind back to your breath. Every time you do that, it’s like a bicep curl for your mind.”

Invest in your mental and physical health

If you find yourself exercising and socializing less and less, feeling isolated and even skipping meals, it may be time to consider senior living. At Amica, we keep your mind and body engaged with learning workshops, mindful meditation sessions, mobility-modified fitness classes, outings to local parks and museums and even wine, beer and cheese tastings. We believe that it’s vital to invest in your mind, body and well-being — don’t you agree?

Book a virtual or in-person tour to find out what it’s like to enjoy living on your own terms in an elegant Amica residence with outstanding dining, amenities, activities, senior care and safety measures.