If you’re feeling some extra stress these days as we move forward in phases and our work lives still feel unsettled, different, and not normal, we have one thing to say that might change your life - or, hey, maybe just today.
Take a deep breath.
Your breath is a superpower. Yes, breathing keeps you alive. But beyond that, it has a tremendous effect on your nervous system, brain, and overall well-being which means it will impact how you show up everyday - personally and professionally.
Mindful, controlled breathing can actually help melt away stress, help you think more clearly, and get you focused on the present moment.
Whether you’re stressed out from two months of uncertainty caused by a global pandemic (super casual, right?), stressed about finding a new job, or stressed out at work and need a chill pill, mindful breathing is probably the something to add to your career toolbox to find your inner calm stat.
Take a deep breath in — it works
When you breathe slowly and deeply, consciously inhaling and exhaling according to a set rhythm, you actually regulate the nervous system by sending signals through your body that’s it’s okay to calm down. You also activate several brain regions tied to emotion, and body awareness, and gain access to a powerful tool for regulating our responses to stress.
(Science is so cool.)
There’s a reason people are always saying, “take a deep breath and calm down,” when you’re stressed: Because deep breathing works.
According to Harvard Medical School, “deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, it can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure.”
Mindful, controlled breathing puts your emotions and body at ease.
Spoiler: You’re probably breathing short, shallow breaths, right now, without even realizing it
Our default is the basic function necessary to keep us alive. Our brains are usually consumed with tasks and trying to remember things...how we’re breathing is likely the last thing on our mind.
Without even realizing it, your neck and shoulders are probably a little tense, you might be hunched over your keyboard, and your lungs are filling with just enough air to keep you from dying.
Which is great, because not dying is always a good thing.
But pausing every now and then during your busy days of autopilot and consciously taking a few deep breaths can change your entire day.
I dare you to try it, right now.
Three breathing techniques to help you find your zen
The benefits of regulated breathing are far too substantial for you not to at least give it a chance. Here are a few techniques you could try right now.
- Lie on your back with your knees slightly bent and your head on a pillow. You may also want to place a pillow under your knees for support
- Place one hand on your upper chest and one hand below your rib cage, allowing you to feel the movement of your diaphragm
- Slowly inhale through your nose, feeling your stomach pressing into your hand
- Keep your other hand as still as possible
- Exhale using pursed lips as you tighten your stomach muscles, keeping your upper hand completely still
- You can place a book on your abdomen to make the exercise more difficult. Once you learn how to do belly breathing lying down, you can increase the difficulty by trying it while sitting in a chair. You can then practice the technique while performing your daily activities
- Choose a comfortable seated position
- Breathe in and out through your nose
- Count during each inhale and exhale to make sure they are even in duration Alternatively, choose a word or short phrase to repeat during each inhale and exhale
- You can add a slight pause or breath retention after each inhale and exhale if you feel comfortable. (Normal breathing involves a natural pause)
- Continue practicing this breath for at least 5 minutes
Alternate nostril breathing
- Choose a comfortable seated position
- Lift up your right hand toward your nose, pressing your first and middle fingers down toward your palm and leaving your other fingers extended
- After an exhale, use your right thumb to gently close your right nostril
- Inhale through your left nostril and then close your left nostril with your right pinky and ring fingers
- Release your thumb and exhale out through your right nostril
- Inhale through your right nostril and then close this nostril
- Release your fingers to open your left nostril and exhale through this side
- This is one cycle
- Continue this breathing pattern for up to 5 minutes
- Finish your session with an exhale on the left side
So, which one was your fav? No pressure — the beauty is that you don’t have to choose. Maybe try one every day for a week, and then switch out to something fresh the following week, and again the week after.
Then, next time you’re stressed out during a crazy day at work or nervous before a job interview, give your favorite technique a few moments to work its magic, and tackle the rest of the way with calm, and confidence.