Ask The Expert, Health

Breathwork for reduce anxiety and stress and boost productivity in lockdown

By Melike Hussein – Certified Mindfulness Teacher, Breathwork Expert and Transformational Coach.

If you find it difficult to relax, notice being more irritable, over-reactive and impatient, and even lacking interest and pleasure, fear not. You are not alone. A survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) (1) reported that more than two-thirds of adults in the UK (69%) reported feeling worried, stressed or anxious as a result of COVID-19.

However, the answer might be right under your nose. In managing and alleviating your stress and stress-related experiences, your breath is your biggest ally.

I have 6 essential tips, very simple and immediately effective, to help you create new wellbeing and productivity-boosting habits in mere seconds. These are simple tweaks to your daily routine by incorporating Breathwork practices. There is no need to carve out time from your busy day or lock yourself in a quiet room. All you need is your breath and willingness to try.

Start the day right with a calm and clear mind

It is tempting to reach for your mobile first thing in the morning to stay on top of your emails, read the news or check social media. However, research has shown that these activities trigger stress in an instant by activating sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ response (2) and even can impair your memory (3). Combined with the high levels of stress hormones in your bloodstream, which is the nature’s way of getting you ready for the day ahead, surge in stress can leave you feeling anxious and your mind hyper-active with swirling thoughts and emotions. Not a great start for a productive and (emotionally and mentally) balanced day.

To restore calm and focus, try this 1-minute breathwork practice before you reach for and after you checked your connected devices:

  • Start by finding a comfortable position sitting upright with your feet firmly on the ground
  • Inhale the to count of 4
  • Exhale to the count of 8
  • Repeat for 5 rounds or as needed.

Plan the day ahead with clarity and focus

With a busy day ahead, you may prefer to stuck in, firing up your computer or start juggling all your responsibilities, each vying for your attention. However, along the way you may find yourself distracted by your emails or alerts on your connected devices or end up spending lots of time on social media. These distractions can not only elevate your stress level, impairing your ability to think clearly, but also distract you from your goals.

A better alternative is to kick start a productive and calmer day with a clear intention and plan, defining your goals and a road map to achieve them. Just like any other planning task, this works at its best if you have a clear and focused mind.

Try this 1-minute grounding breathwork practice before you start planning your day.

  • find a comfortable seated position
  • close your eyes or drop your gaze on the floor in front of you
  • firmly plant your feet on the ground (ideally bare feet or at least no long heels)
  • place your hand on your belly or on your lap
  • start to count each inhale starting from 1 to 10
  • repeat the count 2 more times, each time re-start from 1, count to 10

Checking in with your plan during the day will help you to notice the distractions around and within, giving you a choice to set them aside, as you focus on achieving your goals.

Bring awareness into the present moment

It is shown that we spend 47% of our waking hours (4) thinking about something other than what we are doing. Our mind’s natural tendency is to wander – ruminating about the past, what might happen in the future or catastrophizing – causes anxiety and amplifies stress. Having a regular meditation practice can be an invaluable tool, helping you to notice and let go of these unhelpful thoughts, rather than being swept up.

If you don’t have time to meditate or find it difficult to practice, try this simple 1-minute breathwork exercise to build deep awareness

  • Place one hand on your belly and the other hand on your chest
  • Take a slow and deep inhale through the nose
  • Let go with a relaxed exhale through the mouth
  • Focus all your attention to the movement and physical sensations of your body with each inhale and each exhale
  • Repeat for 10 more rounds

Give your mind a break

When we feel physically fatigued, we recognise that we need to rest. But when our brain is tired or feels foggy, we tend to push through. It is very important for you to recognise that your brain, just like any muscle in your body, need regular breaks.

Research has shown that organising your day with blocks dedicated to work followed by breaks are the best way to boost your productivity (5). Regular breaks with non-work activities that you enjoy is essential for your brain to rest and recover, and for your nervous system to restore balance.

If you want to elevate the productivity-boosting effect of your breaks, try this 1-minute breathwork practice.

  • Start by finding a comfortable position sitting upright with your feet firmly on the ground
  • Inhale through the nose the to count of 4
  • Hold your breath to the count of 4 and, as best as you can, relax into this pause
  • Exhale through the mouth with pursed lips to the count of 8
  • Repeat for 6 rounds or as needed.

Tip: For pursed lips, imagine blowing out your birthday candles.

By slowing down your breath and elongating your exhales, this practice activates the parasympathetic ‘rest and recovery’ mode, which is essential for your body and mind to repair themselves from the wear and tear caused by stress and a hectic day.

Replace coffee with a simple breathwork exercise

Many of us reach for many cups of coffee or energy drinks when we feel our energy reserves are depleted or finding it difficult to think or concentrate. This uplifting effect of caffeine is created by its stimulating effect on the nervous system, causing a surge in stress hormones (6).

However, studies have revealed that repeated caffeine intake during the day can not only cause elevated blood pressure, irritability and anxiety but also harm your ability to have a restful sleep (6) (7).

Next time you find yourself reaching for the next cup of coffee, try this 10-second breathwork exercise instead, which stimulates an alert response in our body and mind.

  • Breathe in through the nose taking slow and deep inhale
  • Breathe out through the mouth, engaging the core and pumping the navel in towards the spine.
  • Repeat for 5 rounds

Tip: If you find this exercise over-energising, try inhaling and exhaling through the nose.

Get a good sleep

Swirling thoughts, overactive mind ruminating about the day’s events are some of the core reasons why many us find it difficult to sleep well or fall asleep again if they wake up during the night.

This short breathing exercise can work wonders in gently quieten your mind by activating parasympathetic ‘rest and recovery’ mode and balancing your nervous system (8).

Tonight as you settle into your bed, try this breathwork technique for a restful sleep

  • Inhale to the count of 5
  • Exhale to the count of 5
  • Focus all your attention to counting each inhale and each exhale
  • Repeat for 6 rounds or as needed

About the expert

Melike Hussein is a Certified Mindfulness Teacher, Breathwork Expert and Transformational Coach.

Melike Hussein

Following a very successful career of 15 years as Finance Director in blue-chip companies, Melike founded BreathZone, inspired by her personal and professional transformation through naturally powerful modalities of Conscious Breathing and Mindfulness.

Melike works with individuals, groups and corporate clients.
She is passionate to create a space for her clients to connect with themselves, become aware of and proactively reduce their stress, gain mastery of and self-regulate their mental, emotional and physical state and ultimately transform their lives.

For more information, please visit www.breathzone.com

Research references

1. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandwellbeing/bulletins/coronavirusandthesocialimpactsongreatbritain/5june2020
2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563217306908
3. http://www.cliniquepsychologiebernard.com/images/FMaheu/Maheu_et_al_2005_Progress_in_N_and_B_Psychiatry.pdf
4. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/wandering-mind-not-a-happy-mind/
5. https://desktime.com/blog/17-52-ratio-most-productive-people/
6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2249754/
7. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0091305796001050
8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2018.00353

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