by Erica Ly

For everyone who wants to start their day off on the right foot, has nerves before public speaking to large groups of people, or who has a case of sweaty palms before a test – I’ve got you.

Given that you chose to check out this post, the chances are you’re stressed and you’re looking for a solution. So right off the bat, look at the gif below.


If that gif was minimally effective at calming you (or actually caused you more anxiety), don’t worry. There’s nothing “wrong” with you – there are plenty of others in the same boat.

The art of destressing through visual animations has risen to fame on YouTube, Tumblr and wellbeing websites. Instead of our having to get out a yoga mat, these short relaxation exercises have been transported to our ever-convenient computer screens.

The only problem is that the effectiveness is based on the assumption that we know how to breathe. Not just the every-day-living pace we were born with, but actually how and when to breathe to get our heart-rates evened out when stressed. 

When panic or anxiety strikes, it can be especially hard to remind ourselves to pace our breathing. So if you’re ready to learn how to breathe all over again and achieve a new sense of calm whenever you need it, you’re in the right place.

PRO-TIPS for the breathing exercises below

  • Practice these exercises when you’re not stressed as well. If you try these tips for the first time when you’re feeling great anxiety, they won’t be effective and you will become even more stressed wondering why the exercises aren’t working.
  • If you feel like you’re going to pass out before the inhale/exhale process is complete, just breathe out or in naturally. None of this is meant to be life-threatening. 🙂 
  • With all of the exercises, repeat as many times as necessary. And just stop if you feel uncomfortable at any time.

1. Counting

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  • Follow the words “Breathe in” and inhale when the figure is pink.
  • Count along with the numbers to distract your mind from the topic that’s bothering you.
  • Follow the words “Breathe out” and exhale when the figure is green.
  • Repeat as many times as necessary. Stop if you feel uncomfortable.


2. Words


  • Follow the words on the animation and exhale. Focus on the feeling of emptying your breath from your lungs.
  • When the circle expands, inhale and focus on the air gathering in your lungs.
  • The animation starts off with exhaling, so if that is confusing or less preferable, just wait for the “Inhale” cue before you begin.


3. Repetition: Focus on Breathing

Now let’s go back to the gif we started with at the beginning.


  • When the brightest part of the light is heading down, breathe out.
  • When the brightest part of the light is heading up, breathe in.


4. Repetition: Focus on Distraction



  • This gif is freer in structure. Instead of focusing on how long to inhale or exhale for, distract yourself from your thoughts by following the pattern of the ball as it travels across the screen. Attempt to slow your breathing along with the movement.


5. Visualization


  • Imagine a cup of your favourite hot drink.
  • Look at this picture and think about the aroma, heat, and flavour.
  • Feel yourself relaxing.
  • (And if the temptation is too strong after this visualization – go get that hot drink!)


6. Simplicity


  • This one doesn’t require much thought. If you like cats and appreciate cute things, look at this cute, happy cat and calm down to the beat of the predictable bobbing. The contrast of light blue and white is also meant to be relaxing and exude positivity.


7. Mesmerization: Writing


Focus on the flowing motions and find a sense of inner rhythm that you can breathe along with. For example, when the pen stroke goes up breathe in, and when it goes down breathe out. Alternatively, just let your stressful thoughts go and focus on the captivating patterns of movement.


8. Mesmerization: Mass Production

So that’s why my new highlighters run out so quickly…
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Suddenly hungry.
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Mass production is not just a revolutionary invention that many have taken advantage of in the present. It is also an insanely mesmerizing process for everyday items from highlighters to ice cream sandwich production.

Not only do you learn something new from watching these gifs, they also successfully distract your mind, and the repetition relaxes you.


9. Imagination: Scenery


Have you ever gone on vacation to a place that made you absolutely ecstatic? Read a book with a scene so detailed you could paint the picture in your mind? Watched a scene from a movie that brought up good memories from the past?

Channel all of that positivity into an animated picture and refer to it for motivation to get past the hard times. If it is a picture of the beach, breathe to the pace of the swaying palm trees or waves. Imagine the sights, sounds, and smells around you. 

Right before a test or your turn to present to the class, it may be difficult to squeeze in time to listen to a playlist of falling rain or watch an hour-long video of waves crashing against the shore. On the other hand, breathing is something we always do as unconsciously as blinking. (If I just made you aware of when you are blinking and now you “forgot how to auto-blink”, I’m sorry.) So why not bookmark this post as a reference for when you might need a quick breather to refresh yourself for a great performance or a great day.


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As a parting thought: if you are feeling stressed, worried or overwhelmed about something, close your eyes, relax, breathe, and believe in yourself. You’ve overcome difficult situations before. You will get over whatever it is that’s bothering you this time too. If you need to talk to someone to alleviate your stress, from the perspective of a fellow student, you can always leave me a comment that I will reply to. For more professional attention , I recommend visiting U of T’s counselling services.

Did these tips work for you? Which one was the most effective? Do you have any other tips to share? Leave a comment below!