As we breathe approximately 20,000 times a day, inhaling and exhaling about 15 to 20 times a minute, you’d think we’d have it all under control.  But no!!

Think about the last time you were in a stressful situation, made a big mistake, or were asked a question in a presentation you couldn’t answer.  What probably happened was that you held your breath!

Even my hobby causes me issues –  whenever I’m learning a new dance step, I hold my breath as I concentrate.  I get to the end of the routine, exhausted – and then I can start breathing again!  You may have noticed fitness trainers reminding people to breath!

This “concentration” reflex evolved to keep our bodies still when focusing on a physical task that requires concentration and precision. By slowing or stopping our breathing, we reduce the background movements of our bodies and, hopefully, achieve better accuracy in the execution of our carefully planned action.

Nowadays, stress is often the trigger and can affect our breathing pattern without us even noticing.  Then we start to feel anxious and our emotions feel out of control.

Unconsciously, we have moved into our sympathetic nervous system and, as a consequence, it’s likely that the muscles in our head, neck and shoulders have become tense. Our adrenal glands will have started to produce adrenaline – the ‘fight or flight’ hormone – and cortisol.   At this stage, not only are we likely to argue more (fight) or disengage (flight), our ability to strategise, build trust and show compassion also shuts down.

If we’re in an important discussion, this stress reaction can cause many issues.  We want to be able to come up with creative and innovative thoughts, not have a mind that goes blank.  But we can’t.

A client recently identified that when they are feeling confident but a customer asks a difficult question, they take a breath, allow themselves a few seconds of calm, and then they can answer.   Realising this allowed them to use the same technique at other stressful times in their working life.  Something that had been alluding them up to now.

A few seconds of silence can often feel like a lifetime when we’re under pressure to respond.  But it is only a few seconds, and the following technique can help you get back a sense of control.

  • Inhale through your nose for one count
  • Hold your breath for two to four counts
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth for two counts.
  • Allow your stomach to rise and fall without forcing it.

This will eliminate toxins and fully oxygenate your body. It will also start to regulate excess adrenaline and cortisol levels and help you feel calmer.

Next time you’re in a stressful situation, try breathing!  It really helps!


Contact us to find out how Executive Coaching can help with stress coping strategies and techniques for the workplace.

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