How we can use our breathing when stressed to bring our logical minds back online

When we get stressed our breathing can change dramatically. We go from nice long relaxed belly-fulls of air to shorter, shallower breaths from the rib cage.

Tension builds in the stomach, neck and shoulders, as our body gets ready with the ‘fight or flight’ response.

Many other changes are happening inside our body when we feel stressed, but our breathing is perhaps the easiest cue to pick up on.

Reverse the process

Our pyschology can affect our physiology, but it also works the other way around.

When you become aware of your breath shortening and your body tightening, give yourself 2 minutes to reset your systems.

Consciously relax your shoulders, neck muscles and tummy and breath deeply into your belly for 5-10 breaths.

Exagerate the length of the out breath, as you discharge the stress and tension that has built up inside your body.

Notice the difference the changes to your breathing makes to your awareness of stress.


Breathing like this can reset your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for ‘rest and digest’ functions in your body.

It gives you a moment to bring your logical, thrive-focused brain back ‘online’ again, giving you the space and clarity to separate the information from the emotion.

Nothing will change what is happening in the real world that caused the stress in the first place, but it can help you make better decisions about how to respond.



All of this of course relies on you noticing that you are stressed and holding your breath in the first place!

Breathing is a great mindfulness exercise in and of itself. Commit to a 2 minute cycle of deep and long breaths for every 30 minutes of work, and set an alarm to remind you if necessary.

Last year I spent a few months wearing a device called a Spire on the waistband of my trousers, which buzzed any time it sensed I was holding my breath (which was more frequent than I imagined!)

I have also used low-tech approaches such as a coloured dot on the corner of my computer screen that reminds me to breathe when I’m working.

However you remind yourself, notice what you notice about your breath response to stress, and play with reversing the process to see what difference you can make.