Breathe Your Stress Away: Boost Productivity and Creativity

Have you ever been stressed at work and felt like your head is going to explode, not being able to cope with everything that is on your plate? Changes are high that the answer will be yes. Recent studies reported that in our day and age, an alarming 40 percent suffers from “extreme stress“ at work. 

These days, being overworked seems to be in fashion and being busy is the new sexy. The World Health Organization even coined stress as the “health epidemic of the 21st century”.

In a rapidly changing, increasingly digital society, our work amounts and with it our stress levels have been increasing as well. The most common reported stressors at work are excessive workloads, low salaries, no opportunities for growth, work that isn’t engaging as well as a lack of social support and conflicting demands or unclear performance expectations. 

How does work related stress affect us?

The effects of this type of work-related stress can vary from a lower sense of moral and moodiness to headaches, sleep disturbances and difficulty concentrating. If left untreated, the stress experienced at work can become chronic and lead to more serious health conditions like anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, a weakened immune system and even depression. Moreover, people dealing with excessive amounts of work stress often deal with is in a unhealthy ways like overeating, eating fast foods, smoking or abusing drugs and alcohol. 

It seems about time to find a solution for to cope with the high amount of work-related pressure present in our daily lives. But what if I told you that there is a solution for work related stress and it is so simple that you are doing it already: breathing!

Nothing is simpler, yet more effective, than breathing and specific breath exercises when it comes to stress. Don’t believe it? Continue reading to find out how you can literally breathe your stress away.

How can breathing improve work-related stress?

Breathing is not just breathing. There are many different ways to pump oxygens in our lungs and through our bodies, and not all are equally beneficial. But if you are conscious about your breathing and are eager to learn a few easy and simple breathwork exercises, you can notice a big drop of of your stress-levels in no time. And not only that, breathing right can also enhance creativity, productivity and engagement at work, improving your overall work situation.

Did you ever go stressed to a yoga class after work and have felt super relieved afterwards? The benefits of yoga to combat stress are well-known these days. One part of yoga is pranayama, yogic breathing, and it can help you tremendously with your stress levels. The good thing about pranayama is that you don’t need to dress yourself in your Lululemon activewear and roll out your yoga mat, you can do it everywhere, even in your office, and it needs only a few minutes to lower your innate stress levels. 

The science behind breathing: How can breathing lower stress levels?

When we learn to breathe right, we are supplying our bodies with the necessary amount of oxygen it needs. More oxygen promotes blood purification, calming the mind, reducing stress and promoting concentration. How? The vital oxygen ensures that our brain and other organs function properly. When our brain functions properly, it is able to make decisions from keeping a cool head and not from our initial ‘fight-flight-response‘ that is activated in stressful situations. 

In ancient times, our fight-flight was only activated in life-threatening situations. But since we do not have to run away from lethal animals in our day and age, our fight-flight is activated in less dangerous and more everyday stressful situations, for example workplace related pressure. The fight-flight mode activates our sympathetic nervous system, making us breath shorter and faster to prepare for danger. However, this is not very beneficial to our long-term health. 

Luckily, this can be reversed simply through the magic of breath. Breathing deep and consciously into the belly can help us get out of the fight-flight and move from our active sympathetic nervous system into the parasympathetic nervous system, our relaxing state of being. 

We just have to consciously remind ourselves in stressful situations to take longer and deeper breaths into the belly. This will calm down our system, boost our energy and even improve digestion so you can remain calm in challenging situations and learn to effectively manage your emotions.

Easy Breathing Exercises that help you cope with stress

If you want to learn more about breath and how to breathe deeper, it can be helpful to explore the benefits of pranayama. ‘Prana‘ is translated as “life force” in Sanskrit. And this is exactly what our breath is: our vital life energy. We want to get it flowing optimal to make sure we are happy and healthy in every phase of our life.

Next to guiding the breathe deeply and consciously into the belly, an effective yogic breathing exercise for stress reduction and balancing your nervous system is Nadi Shodhana, also called alternate nostril breathing. 

To practice, start sitting comfortably with a straight spine. 

Bring your right palm in front of your face. 

Close your eyes and take a deep breath in and out through your nose. 

The close your right nostril with your right thumb and inhale through the left nostril slowly and steadily. 

Close the left nostril with your ring finger so both nostrils are held closed; retain your breath at the top of the inhale for a brief pause.

Open your right nostril and release the breath slowly through the right side; pause briefly at the bottom of the exhale. 

Inhale through the right side slowly.

Hold both nostrils closed (with ring finger and thumb).

Open your left nostril and release breath slowly through the left side. Pause briefly at the bottom.

Repeat 5-10 cycles, allowing your mind to follow your inhales and exhales.

If you do this exercise in a stressful situation or when feeling overwhelmed, you will realize how only after a few minutes, your stress levels have lowered, your mind gets clearer and the tension melts away from the body, allowing you to deal objectively with the issues at hand and managing your workload more effectively.

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