Setting yourself up in business is rewarding but can also be very stressful. We can feel there aren’t enough hours in the day, that there’s pressure on us to succeed, and that we are struggling to prioritise. We can lose our sense of perspective. We may start to see all the obstacles rather than the opportunities. We can get caught up in busyness or paralysis rather than productive thinking and action.
If you recognise this, there’s a very simple way of building some time and space in your working day. It needn’t take very long and it will restore your sense of perspective, increase your composure and reduce your stress. And it uses a tool all of us have: our breath.
Breathing in is great. But breathing out is even better. Working with your exhalation can increase your ability to be calm and cool when the pressure is on even if it’s self-inflicted pressure (which it often is).
If you think of the instruction to take a deep breath, it’s often an exhortation to action in an unknown or threatening situation. The breath in question is a long inhale, followed by a short explosive out breath as we launch into battle. It’s all very fight or flight, and the physiological effect of this sort of breathing on us is just that. Our nervous system and stress related hormones fire up to help us race away from danger or attack it head on. But most of the time there is no real danger, we’re just overreacting to an irritation. With an exhale we can prevent getting irritated in the first place and stop this constant firing up that just increases our stress levels.
Here are some techniques working with the exhale.
Take that deep breath in. But then hold it for a few seconds, and then exhale in a slow and measured way. Try this over a few breaths several times a day and specifically before you do something that unnerves you.
Or you can work with breath ratios. Observe your breath for a few rounds of inhaling and exhaling, counting up to six mentally for each inhale and exhale until you are comfortable with what speed you need to count at to make each breath part last six. Then breathe in, hold, breathe out, hold, for the following ratios:
inhale 6 hold 2 exhale 6 hold 2
Again try this when you want to be more relaxed.
Lastly, here’s a form of relaxing breathing that has the added benefit of improving the quality of your voice and your ability to project it without straining. This is important if we are pitching about our products or services and don’t want nerves to get in the way. It’s diaphragm breathing, and singers, actors and sportspeople use it to enhance their performance. It’s also used by therapists to work with a number of conditions. But everyone can benefit from learning to relax and improve the quality of their breathing.
You might like to begin by lying down flat on your back before you try it sitting down and then standing. Once you have got the hang of it, you can do it any position, though your back needs to be straight to ensure the oxygen has an unimpeded flow to your stomach area.
Lie flat on your back, with a cushion under your head if that’s more comfortable. If there is any lower back strain, bend your knees and keep your feet flat on the floor. Place one hand on your chest and one on your tummy button. Start to notice your breath and then check you are breathing deeply enough that you feel with your hands a movement in both your chest and stomach moving outward as you inhale and inward as you exhale. Ideally, the lower hand over your stomach should rise before the hand on your chest as you inhale and sink after the hand on your chest as you exhale.
Now try it sitting down with your back straight. Again notice the natural rise and fall of the breath in your chest and stomach against your hands, with the inhale starting from your stomach and the exhale ending there.
Finally, try it standing up. Once you have established the pattern you won’t need to use your hands and you can practice it anywhere. This is the sort of breathing you aim to use during a presentation to maximise your quality of voice in terms of its range and resonance as well as keeping your performance full of composure.
If you’d like to explore more ways to settle your mind so you can focus on being more productive and less busy, click here for three more techniques.
Join the Start and Grow Enterprise community and set up your business with our support, visit our About page to find out more.