If you knew that there was something at your disposal every moment of every day that you can call on to help you to deal with stress and keep you calm; something that gives you greater impact when speaking and helps you to think more clearly, wouldn’t you want to know what it was? Michael Charlesworth considers this gift and makes suggestions on how you might use it.

Breathing. When was the last time you actually noticed your breathing? Probably just now, now that I have mentioned it! For most people, breathing is an unconscious activity. We go through life allowing our autonomic nervous system to take care of our breathing; determining how much breath we need when we sleep, how much we need at work or when we are exercising.

In situations where people are stressed or anxious – such as when facing a difficult conversation – the faster they breathe; and most people don’t even notice this is happening. This faster breathing is our response to our inbuilt desire to ‘fight’ or take ‘flight’. Fast breathing takes more oxygen than usual to the brain. The result? We can’t think straight, our heart beats faster, we speak faster and with less clarity than normal and we become hot and agitated.

However, our central nervous system can also control breathing. This means that you can consciously control your breathing and this simple act can help you to think more clearly. Try it now – breathe in slowly for five seconds and then out for five seconds.

We know that there are a multitude of health benefits to lowering our stress levels. Slowing down our breathing is one way to de-stress. So five or ten minutes a day of slow, mindful breathing may be the most powerful self-help tool at your disposal. It’s free, you don’t need to join a gym, go for a run, change clothes, all you have to do is notice the breath come into your lungs and then observe it going out again. The slower you can regulate your breath the better.

So whether you are on the train, in the car, at work or at home, or when you are giving a presentation, about to have a difficult conversation, or are facing any stressful situation, put your attention onto your breathing.

Notice the air going into your lungs, your rib cage expanding and your stomach getting momentarily larger. Then notice what happens as the air leaves your lungs, the stomach going in, the ribcage getting smaller. Practice this every day and you will notice yourself feeling calmer, less stressed. You may also get the bonus of solving a problem: your brain will often do this when you are not asking it to consciously focus.
Now, deep breath…