If your business is falling victim to employee stress and burnout, join the most forward-looking companies who’re exploring new ways to help employees reduce stress and anxiety levels.
Breathwork is one of the cutting-edge techniques that’s causing the most excitement, and its benefits are backed up by research. Perciavalle et al (2017) reported a 15% reduction in self-reported measures of stress for people practising deep breathing techniques*.
Many companies have embraced the benefits of mindfulness, and taking this a step further into the realm of breathwork can supercharge the effects even more. The simple act of pausing and observing the breath is a potent way to come directly into the present moment and get out of the flurry of thoughts dominating your mind.
It creates a small space, a choice point if you like, an opportunity to choose how to respond rather than simply reacting. Not only does taking a few deep breaths give a moment to calm a stressed nervous system, but it can also bring greater clarity of thought, more creativity and an increased ability to pay attention.
When we pay conscious attention to our breath, slowing it down and breathing more deeply, we stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (the part responsible for helping us rest and recover from stress). This is important because in our always-on world, many people suffer from overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system (the part responsible for the fight or flight (stress) response).
For many people the stress response kicks in almost continuously – when we receive an email or text, when we see someone apparently living the perfect life on social media, when we have work pressures and deadlines piling up, when we have an important meeting to attend or to speak at.
Breathing exercises can help counter the stress response and returning us to a state where we can think more clearly and objectively.
Try this short exercise:
- Sit or stand comfortably, with your feet placed firmly on the floor about hip-width apart
- Notice how you are feeling right now – any sensations in your body, perhaps tingling, or a sense of being hot or cold,
- Perhaps think to yourself, ‘on a scale of 1-10 where are my stress levels right now?’
- Become aware of your breathing: Is it fast or slow? Shallow or deep? Where are you breathing – in your belly or your chest?
- Place your hands on your belly so that the very tips of your fingers are just lightly touching
- Take a deep diaphragmatic breath (you will know you are getting down into your belly effectively if your fingertips gently move apart as you breathe in, and gently come back to touch again as you breathe out)
- Take 4-5 deep breaths in this way
- Notice how you are feeling now, and check in again where your stress levels are having done this simple experiment
If this was helpful, try practicing it a few times a day. It can be useful to anchor the practice to something you do regularly – mealtimes or making a cup of tea, for example. By anchoring the practice you’ll start to build muscle memory, so that when you really need to use the technique it’s readily available to you.
Breathwork at Work
There are three ways in which dedicated breathwork exercises and support can be helpful in the workplace, boosting business performance and helping employees at all levels to thrive and grow:
For the general population of employees, teaching them to use some simple breathwork exercises gives them easy-to-access tools they can use every day, whenever they feel they need some additional support.
Combining breathwork with embodiment (the way we move, breathe and hold ourselves) coaching can increase confidence, improve public speaking ability, enhance communication skills, empowering employees and leaders to step into their own personal power and gravitas.
If you have employees heading towards or already suffering from burnout, 1:1 breath sessions can be a powerful tool to support them in overcoming symptoms, enabling them to return successfully to the workplace. This type of support helps to reduce stress and panic attacks, promotes better sleep patterns and ability to rest, and gives a tool they can use to support themselves on a daily basis, improving the chances of an employee coming back to peak performance levels again.
If you’d like to find out more about how breathwork can support your employees mental, physical and emotional health, there’s a free infographic you can download here. Breath really does mean business.
*Perciavalle V, Blandini M, Fecarotte P, Buscemi, A, Di Corrado D, Bertolo L, Fichera F, Coco M (2017) The Role of Deep Breathing on Stress, Neurological Sciences, 38 (3) 451-458