Stress is part of life. Sometimes it is a force for good – being functional, keeping us challenged and engaged. Most times when people talk about stress, it is the dysfunctional kind. Chronic stress is the most debilitating, creeping up on us as we try to “cope”.
Stress factors can easily be “hidden” in the usual symptoms of a heavy work load like fatigue, headaches, impatience, and irritability. It is when they morph into other symptoms that we get spooked – and for good reason. These include dizziness, heart palpitations, inability to concentrate, panic attacks, apathy, insomnia and depression. They can be as individual as you are. In essence, they signal that all is not right.
There are many things that can and ought to be done to deal with these sorts of symptoms. This post hones in one strategy that can be used at any time, in any place and without any equipment.
The strategy is a breathing technique. It is called intentional breathing. The writers of the HBR article recommend a three-step process. It is easy to remember and with practice, it is easy to add to your arsenal of self-management tools.
3 Steps to intentional breathing
- Remember to breathe. When you notice symptoms of stress – breathe. Have a trigger or cue to do that. Perhaps it is to say the word to yourself, then do it.
- Begin breathing intentionally. Take a couple of strong, long, deep breaths. Focus on the physical experience of deep breathing.
- Engage in resonant breathing. After some initial deep breaths, start resonant breathing. This is done by completing each breath – in and out – in ten seconds. Do six of these per minute. Resonant breathing helps to access coherence. Coherence is achieved by maintaining a regular tempo to your breathing. Walking at a regular pace can help you to regulate this, coinciding your breaths with your steps. After a while you develop a rhythm. Continue the breathing until you notice a shift in your state of mind, and you feel a sense of control over your own reactions.
Coherent breathing can help in regulating your nervous system and your heart rate. It has a calming effect and as such is useful in many situations apart from chronic stress. This simple technique is a valuable one for helping you refind your balance. So instead of storing it away, until you need it some stressful day – incorporate it into your routine. Punctuate your day in a coherent way with small interludes of coherent breathing.
Do you have a breathing strategy to share?
Source: Caillet, Alexander, Hirshberg, Jeremy & Petti, Stefano. 2016. A simple way to combat chronic stress Harvard Business Review. 15 April 2016. www.hbr.org