While serving in a Married Student Ward in Hawaii, I asked one brother if he ever got nervous when he performed in plays and musicals. He said, “sure, but I breathe through it.” I asked a young lady who played viola in the university orchestra if she ever got nervous before a concert. She replied, “yes, but I breathe through it.” I asked another sister who had a fantastic soprano voice if she ever got nervous before a concert, a play, or before singing a solo when all eyes were on her. She said, “oh yeah, but I breathe through it.” I was starting to sense a common theme. Did they all have the same professor? Did the same mantra permeate the music and theatre arts department?

When I attended a two-day training seminar on treating PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder, now called PTS, post-traumatic stress), the presenter spent the first two hours talking about different ways to breathe. This was my first training on treating PTSD and I impatiently thought, “ok, ok, how soon will she talk about treatment methods for PTSD?” Then she said something that I have not forgotten: “The mind controls the body and breath controls the mind.” Focused breathing is an amazingly effective tool!

If our mind and our thoughts are troubled and agitated, they can cause our bodies to react. We can feel anxious, tense, nervous, worried, or fearful. We might have difficulty concentrating, have racing thoughts, have fears of losing control, fainting or passing out, fear of getting sick, or fear of looking foolish in front of others. Physically, our heart might speed up, we might have tight or tense muscles, trembling, headaches, stomach problems, feeling tired or weak or easily exhausted.

One of the main tools to improve mental health is to do focused breathing and relaxation. If someone struggles with anxiety, depression, stress, trouble falling asleep, anger issues, relationship problems, addictions, or other issues, one important way to feel better is simply to breathe. Below are some tips and suggestions for breathing and relaxation.

[A WORD OF CAUTION: If you start to get dizzy or light-headed while doing deep breathing or have other medical issues where deep breathing can be a problem, please use regular breathing.]


Inhale through your nose for about a count of four or whatever works for you. Then exhale through your mouth also about a count of four. As you inhale, feel your diaphragm expand and your chest fill with air. As you exhale, feel your body relax…your neck, your shoulders, your arms, feel your chest go down and you completely relax. If you feel any areas of tension, let them relax as you exhale.


Another effective tool along with deep breathing is progressive relaxation. Breathing and relaxation can be done together. For deep relaxation, as you inhale, gently tighten different muscle groups (not too tight). Then, as you exhale, let your muscles completely relax. Tighten and relax one area at a time: your head and face, your jaw, neck, shoulders and back, triceps and biceps, forearms, hands and fingers, chest and stomach, thighs and calves, feet and toes. Focus on your breathing and your body and let all other thoughts drift away. Let your breathing control your mind, and let your body completely relax.


Often, people use deep breathing and relaxation and still have difficulty becoming calm because of disturbing thoughts racing through their minds. Elder Boyd K. Packer, former member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “The mind is like a stage. Except when we are asleep, the curtain is always up. There is always some act being performed on that stage. It may be a comedy, a tragedy, interesting or dull, good or bad; but always there is some act playing on the stage of the mind.” (Inspiring Music– Worthy Thoughts, General Conference, October 1973; Worthy Music, Worthy Thoughts, Ensign, April 2008). There are several techniques to change those thoughts. We can think of inspiring music or a favorite scripture. We can recite the 13 Articles of Faith. Another effective tool is to use our five senses to describe a scene that is calm and relaxing.

What do we see? What do we hear? What do we smell? What do we taste? What do we feel?

One of my calm scenes is the snow-covered forest in Yellowstone National Park where I worked one winter season. I saw tall evergreen trees surrounding a small clearing where the sun glittered on the pristine snow. I saw the wisp of steam floating out and over a nearby geyser. I could hear the deep silence around me… snowmobiles and crowds were far away. I could smell the fresh scent of the pine trees with an occasional whiff of sulfur from the geyser. I could taste the sweet and salty and fruity combination of my trail mix. I could feel the crisp, cold air on my cheeks, and the cold, hard ground where I sat.

Do you notice as you think of your calm scene, all other thoughts are set aside and no longer cause distress? You have invited calming thoughts onto the stage of your mind and the others disappear. I would invite you to write down your scene, read it and re-read it and combine it with a regular practice of deep breathing and relaxation to help manage the stress in your life.

Above all, may the Lord bless us to find peace in Him.