As a mindfulness and high-performance coach there is undoubtably one technique I have taught thousands of people that gives them outstanding results for ‘nipping stress in the bud’ immediately, it’s called the 90 second breath break.
I have taught this technique to corporate executives, CEOs, surgeons, athletes, teachers, and people from all walks of life, and many will describe it as a ‘game changer’ in helping them manage stress. Please do not underestimate the short duration of this practice because I have seen the benefits time and time again and sometimes it even amazes me how profound the rewards are from such a short practice.
You see when we are under stress, our body goes through a series of physiological changes, known as the stress response or fight and flight mode. The body and brain are on high alert and stress chemicals are pumped through the body. The stress response is only designed to be switched on for short term stimulus, to get you through a challenging or stressful period and then switched off when not needed. However, in the fast pace of the modern world many people are triggering the stress response all day and everyday which is very taxing on the body and mind, potentially leading to burnout.
However, the polar opposite of the stress response is what is known as the relaxation response which restores balance and calms the body and mind. One of the best ways to initiate the relaxation response is through deep breathing techniques which changes your body’s physiology immediately. Deep breathing tricks your mind into feeling calm and safe which deactivates the stress response, and the good news is, we can do this in the matter of about 90 seconds.
Some benefits of deep breathing
- Reduces stress chemicals and hormones
Deep breathing can help reduce the levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenalin running through the body. This can help reduce feelings of stress, overwhelm, anxiety and promote relaxation.
- Lowers blood pressure
Deep breathing can help lower blood pressure by promoting relaxation and reducing the body's physiological response to stress. It can also help reduce your resting heart rate the more you practice it.
- Increases oxygen levels
Deep breathing helps to increase the amount of oxygen to the body and the brain which can help improve your overall health and wellbeing. When you have more oxygenated blood flowing through the brain you have more mental clarity and energy.
- Relaxes the nervous system
The autonomic nervous system has two main branches, one being the sympathetic nervous system when we are operating in a stressful way and the other being the parasympathetic nervous system which helps you recover after a stressful event. In an ideal world we fluctuate between the two systems to create homeostasis (balance) in the body. Deep breathing instantly initiates the parasympathetic nervous system to help us stay calm and restore balance.
- Enhances mood
Deep breathing and meditation promotes serotonin production which is known as a mood stabilizer that gives you a sense of general well-being and improves your mood.
How to practice the 90 second breathing technique
It’s really simple to practice this technique, the first thing you need to do is pause what you are doing and take a moment to get in a comfortable position. It could be seated in your chair at work, or going out to a park bench, or anywhere you can make yourself comfortable.
Gently close your eyes, or half close them if you prefer, and rest your awareness on your breath. Relax your shoulders and rest your arms wherever is most comfortable.
When you are ready, take a deep, intentional breath into your nose, filling up your body with air (without force). Follow this with a slow, controlled exhale through the nose (and mouth) all of the way out, totally emptying your lungs. Feel a sense of new energy and vitality entering your body and mind with each in- breath and then feel a sense of release, or letting go, with each out-breath.
Continue gently inhaling and exhaling for about 10 rounds, or about 90 seconds, constantly working on making your breath slower, smoother and deeper. At the end of the practice, take your time to gently open your eyes and bring the calm awareness back into your day. You may want to set a timer on your device for 90 seconds or just stop when you are ready.
The more you practise these 90-second breath breaks, the more you train your self-awareness and your ability to self-regulate to ‘nip stress in the bud’. It also doesn’t matter whether you are an absolute beginner to mindfulness or someone who has a regular daily meditation practice, you can still reap the profound benefits from this short practice. It’s a great technique to use when feeling overwhelmed stressed or anxious, before a big meeting, between tasks to reset, or when lacking focus and clarity. In fact, you can use it anywhere, anytime!