Breathing techniques for work-related stress

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Health Assured team

09 March 2023

Your to-do list is mounting—and you’ve had a request that tips you over the edge. You’re in back-to-back meetings all day, watching your inbox slowly mount up. You’re dealing with a demanding client whose important deadline is fast approaching. Before you know it you've been swept away by stress and are holding out for that holiday. 

Many situations at work can trigger a spiral of overwhelm, anxiety and stress, resulting in a mental, physical, and behavioural response activated by the sympathetic nervous system. This stress response is what’s often known as flight or flee. We’ve detected a threat—and we’re ready to respond.

And while this response is helpful in threatening situations, many of the stresses of day-to-day life don’t require this reaction. However, we can't avoid all stress triggers in our lives, particularly in the workplace. So instead, we can use tools like breathing techniques to overcome these work-related stresses. We’ll delve further into why these techniques are so useful below and look at some examples you can use.


Why are breathing techniques beneficial for work-related stress?

Research shows that breathing techniques are a powerful tool to help activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This system functions to calm the brain and body, reducing symptoms of stress like increased heart rate and bodily tension. As a result, the body feels more relaxed and the mind more prepared to take on challenges.

This tool can be a useful one as it’s free. You can do it anywhere, anytime. If you find it works for you, it’s a great fallback in times of need—especially in the workplace. We’ve got four below that you can try next time you find yourself stressed at work. 


Diaphragmatic breathing 

In simple words, this technique involves deep belly breaths that help to fill the lungs completely. Make yourself comfortable and keep your back as straight as you can.

Without force, let your breath naturally flow down into your belly.

Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.

Focus on breathing gently and pushing the breath down into your belly.

As you exhale, relax the body and pause if you wish before repeating the process for around three to five minutes.


Box breathing 

Box breathing or square breathing is simple, easy to follow and repetitive, so you can quite easily get in the flow. To use this technique, settle in somewhere comfortable.

Inhale through the nose four a count of four.

Hold the air in the lungs for a count of four.

Exhale through the mouth for a count of four.

Hold your breath for a count of four.

Repeat the process for around three to five minutes.


4-7-8 breathing 

4-7-8 is a yoga-inspired breathing exercise that helps aid relaxation. It’s a good one to try if you’re struggling to sleep at night too. To try this technique, find a comfortable spot and sit or lie down with a straight back.

Relax your jaw and exhale through your mouth.

Close your mouth and inhale for a count of four.

Hold your breath and count to seven.

Exhale through your mouth for a count of eight. Let all the air in your lungs fully exhale. You may even wish to let out a sigh if this feels comfortable.

Repeat this cycle at least four times.


Alternate nostril breathing 

Alternate nostril breathing aims to regulate and clear the air flowing through your nasal passages. Sit straight with an open heart.

Relax your left hand in your lap. Bring your right hand to your nose and close the right nostril with your thumb.

Then inhale through the left nostril slowly and steadily and close the left nostril with your finger.

Let go of your right nostril and exhale through this side.

Inhale through the right and then close this nostril.

Let go of the left nostril and exhale through this side.

Repeat this cycle for three to five minutes.


Health Assured can help you overcome workplace stress

Our workplace wellbeing expert can help you tackle stress in the workplace, simply get in touch on 0800 206 2532.

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