(If you have asthma, skip this post. Check out my short blog post on asthma and deep breathing.)
The quickest way to lower your stress level that I’ve ever come across is simply to take a deep breath. The great thing about this technique is that you can do it anywhere – in a department meeting, trying to get Powerpoint working during your presentation, talking with an irate customer. You’re breathing. Who’s going to even notice, let alone make a big deal about it?
There is a trick to this kind of breathing, though. You have to do it the right way or it can backfire on you. Try panting to see just how tense you can make yourself. Shallow breathing is the wrong way to breathe.
The right way is to make your breath go all the way down to your diaphragm at the very bottom of your lungs. If you’ve had any singing training, you’ve probably already learned how to do diaphragmatic breathing. If not, it’s pretty easy to do. First, put your hand over your navel. While keeping your chest and shoulders still, take a slow breath through your nose that goes all the way down and pushes out your hand. Hold it for a few seconds. Now slowly let the air out through your mouth. That’s all there is to it.
No really, that’s it. Do two or three of those breaths and you’ll get rid of some tension in your body. Since you can’t be tense and relaxed at the same time, your stress level will go down, and both your body and your brain will start to work better.
For more long-term benefits, you could do this type of breathing three times a day. Before every meal can be a good way to remember. Take ten breaths. Breathe in through your nose on a slow count of three, hold for three counts, then breathe out through your mouth on a count of five. Play with those numbers to see which works best for you. (I prefer four, four, six. Others I’ve worked with liked three, four, five.) If you start to get dizzy that means you’re hyperventilating. Breathe normally for half a minute then finish the ten breaths.
The more often you practice this breathing, the more you train yourself to stay relaxed in general and the easier it is to remember how to breathe right when things get tense.
If you really want to get hard-core about this, start doing yoga. In yoga, this kind of breathing is an important part of meditating. By the way, yoga and meditation in general are great ways to bring stress way down.
I’ve heard that combat trainers teach this sort of breathing to Green Berets and FBI agents as a way to master their fear while in action. If it can help them focus when somebody is pointing a gun at them, it should help you focus in the boss’s office.
Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a get-acquainted session by phone or Skype to talk about how we might work together on what’s blocking you.