The Underestimated Power Of Breathwork

Anybody who carves space out of their day to meditate understands the calming effects it has on the mind and body. But how do these tools come into play in the middle of an emotionally charged situation? Are we actually able to regulate ourselves when we’re overwhelmed by the demands of a busy office? This is the real challenge.

We all have a stress-relieving tool built into us: our breathing. Different breathing techniques have proven to help regulate the nervous system, reduce anxiety, and help bring us back to the present moment.

“Mindful breathing is a type of mindfulness, which refers to being aware of the present moment without judgment,” says Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Gabrielle Juliano-Villani. In this practice, you simply “focus on control of your breath.”

The appeal of mindful breathing techniques is simple: it’s a tool you always have with you, you can do it anywhere, it’s free, and it puts you in control of your experience. You can implement these at any moment and in any scenario. Remember, stress-reducing techniques are only valuable if they’re integrated into everyday life, and can be used in real time.

When everything feels like it’s going awry, mindful breathing reminds us of what we have control over; our breath. This inhale and exhale is the flow of life, and a reminder that despite our emotions or circumstances in the moment, we are safe. In safety, we can slow down, recognize our thoughts, emotions, and physiological responses, and then respond consciously, rather than react from a place of panic.

Two types of mindful breathing I recommend for burnout:

Box Breathing, and Cyclic Sighing.

A study by Stanford University compared breathing techniques and their impact on improving mood and anxiety compared with mindful meditation, and among the list were these two techniques.

To exercise cyclical breathing, Neurobiologist Andrew Huberman says, “Inhale slowly, preferably through the nose, and once the lungs are fully expanded, inhale again to maximally fill the lungs. Then slowly exhale the entire breath through the mouth.” He suggests repeating this, preferably for a 5-minute period.

The study found that “Cyclic sighing produced the highest daily improvement in positive affect and the highest reduction of respiratory rate, both significantly different from mindful meditation.” The physiological effects of cyclic sighing also appear to last over time.

This simple exercise, along with box breathing, can be a great tool in the heat of the moment.

Just like a box has four sides, the box breathing method has four parts of equal time: inhaling, holding the breath, exhaling, and then holding the breath again, then repeating.

Let’s say your class two composite doesn’t have the interproximal contact you wanted. There may be a frustration in that you have to do this filling again, and there’s also now a schedule that you’re getting behind on, patients waiting, and two hygienists lingering outside your operatory for exams. A normally busy office can seem chaotic when we’re under stress.

You can perform box breathing in the time it takes to cure your composite. It’s that simple. For me, this allows me to shift my focus from the surrounding environment, and to ground into my body, bringing me back to the present, and back to the task at hand.

Stress will kick us into a fight-or-flight response, which isn’t just unhealthy for us in the long run, but can cloud our judgment and decision-making skills. Although there may be a long list of tasks awaiting me, I’ve now given myself the space to regulate my thoughts, allowing my mind to focus on just one thing at a time.

We don’t have to wait for these stressful scenarios to do this. You can perform cyclic sighing in your car, or while you wait for a patient to get numb.. You can also allot yourself five minutes in your day for this exercise. Don’t view this break as a distraction or time that will delay your schedule. View it as a time to recharge so that you can sustain your energy and enthusiasm, and work more efficiently.

No matter how much work we’ve done for ourselves, stress is inevitable in all aspects of life. However, learning how to manage it can protect us from its long-term physical and emotional effects. Better yet, using a natural way to regulate our stress saves us time and money, and has zero side effects. It can’t hurt to try.