The number on your inbox is climbing higher and higher, you have a big report due tomorrow, and there’s a meeting in an hour. Maybe you haven’t even had the chance to break for lunch yet, so you go for a snack or another cup of coffee instead. If you’re familiar with this pattern, you know a thing or two about workplace stress and how it can lead to a slew of health-compromising decisions. When mental well-being is concerned, however, there’s a simple trick I always turn to that nips stress in the bud and helps me power through the afternoon — breathing.
As a yoga teacher on the side, I’m no stranger to the benefits of a breathing practice, but I never really considered adding one to my workday routine until I read more about how it can boost energy and brain function.
Obviously, breathing is something we need to do to live that occurs most of the time without much conscious thought. However, breathing on auto-pilot can have consequences on our bodies that lead to diminished energy levels and brain fog.
Studies have shown that deep breathing activates the rest-and-digest response in the nervous system while turning down the fight-or-flight response, which is intricately linked to stress and anxiety. The fight or flight response is characterized by short, shallow breaths taken in the chest, and while it’s a survival mechanism meant to keep us alive during dangerous situations, too much stress can wreak havoc on our health. But breathing deeply into the belly can stimulate nerve bundles that activate relaxation and send stress away.
The benefit of incorporating a breathing practice into your workday isn’t just less stress — it can increase your productivity, too. With a mountain of tasks on your to-do list and the caffeine from the morning tapering off, you might find yourself feeling a little foggy come afternoon. Taking a moment to focus on your breathing increases the amount of oxygen in your body, providing your cells with energy. What’s more, oxygenated blood can travel to your brain and turn on your centers of focus and concentration!
My practice is simple. I set a reminder on my computer to go off once every hour to BREATHE. When the reminder goes off, I complete whatever sentence or email I’m writing and I focus on my breath for one full minute. I begin by breathing deeply into my lower belly, filling it up, then filling the ribs up, then finally the chest. I will count this deep inhalation for four seconds (that’s full, Mississippi seconds!) and then hold the breath in for four seconds. Then exhale for a total of at least six seconds first from the chest, then ribs, then belly, pulling the lower ribs together at the end (this contracts the muscle of the diaphragm which helps you breathe even deeper.)
Bringing a breathing routine into my day has made a tremendous difference in my life. It allows me to recognize when my mind is running a thousand miles a minute and slow down. It allows me to focus with more calm and clarity. It allows me to concentrate on effectively completing one task before moving on to the next. It might not seem like it at first, especially if you’re the busy bee type, by taking a moment to slow down and focus on your breath will work wonders on your productivity and overall stress levels. We’re wishing you a calm and relaxed rest of your workday!