Why You Shouldn’t ‘Take a Deep Breath’ When You’re Stressed

Does Taking a Deep Breath Actually Help You Relax?

At some point in your life, you’ve likely experienced an upsetting situation that provoked anxiety. Maybe you received an email from your boss saying, “We need to talk.” You quickly began to dread the meeting. Thoughts of what might be wrong, or how you might explain yourself, flooded your mind.

When it was finally time to meet, your body’s anxiety reaction was in full swing. Perhaps first you noticed a drop in your stomach. Then once you sat down at your boss’ desk, your heart started beating more quickly and your hands began to sweat.

As these symptoms continued, you noticed your breathing becoming more rapid and shallow. Your mind raced through possible ways to calm yourself, and you remembered the well-intentioned saying, “Take a deep breath!”

In line with this advice, you began to inhale deeply…

But, wait! How helpful is this advice?

Most people have been told at some point that taking deep breaths can have a calming effect, but does it really help to take a deep breath? The short answer is, “No.”

To understand why taking a deep breath might actually be counterproductive, we must first understand the fundamentals of the human breathing process.

The Physics of Breathing

Breathing is automatic — that is, most of the time we breathe without being fully aware of it. Breathing is controlled by our body’s autonomic nervous system. This system is made up of 2 divisions:

  • The sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which stimulates the body’s fight-or-flight response.
  • The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which relaxes the body after stimulation.

These 2 systems  parallel the breathing process. When we inhale, our diaphragm moves down and the volume in our thoracic cavity increases as our lungs fill with air. As they fill, they also begin to compress the walls of the heart, which in turn restricts blood flow going into and out of the heart. To compensate for this restriction, our heart rate increases, stimulating our fight-or-flight response. When we exhale, our diaphragm moves up and the volume in our thoracic cavity decreases as our lungs empty the air inside them, which relaxes our bodies.

In short, it is actually our exhale, not our inhale, which helps our body relax.

Avoid Overbreathing

Now that we’ve described the breathing process, let’s take a look at the recommendation to “take a deep breath.”  If you do this rapidly, it can lead to overbreathing, which can be broadly defined as a breathing pattern that results in breathing out too much carbon dioxide, which, in turn, results in less blood flowing to your brain (i.e. hyperventilating).

Typically, we begin to overbreathe when we’re in a panicked or stressed state.

People who tell you to “take a deep breath” probably think they are preventing overbreathing by keeping you from hyperventilating. The thing is, taking in a lot of air and holding it in is still overbreathing. You’re still activating your sympathetic nervous system.

Focus on Your Exhale, Not Your Inhale, for More Relaxation

So, what should you do? Although it’s perfectly natural to respond to anxiety and panic with overbreathing, the good news is that we also have the ability to affect our breathing rate. We can change our breathing. This means we can train ourselves to respond to overbreathing with an intentional breathing pattern designed to promote relaxation.

As you sit at your boss’ desk trying to manage your anxiety symptoms, rather than taking a deep breath, focus on extending the exhale.

Some researchers recommend a specific ratio of inhalation to exhalation that can be practiced in the moment when wanting to achieve a more relaxed breathing state. For example, Inna Kahzan, a clinical instructor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, recommends a 4:6 ratio — 40% of the breath cycle spent on inhalation and 60% of the breath cycle spent on exhalation.

With this practice, she recommends “low and slow” diaphragmatic breathing, where you “pay attention to the location of the breath, smooth transition from exhalation to inhalation, long and complete exhalation, without focusing on the depth of the inhalation.”

Though the exact breath count that is most helpful for you may vary based on your natural breathing rate (some people tend to breath at a higher/lower rate than others), a rough estimate of what this ratio would look like is to inhale for a count of 1…2…3…4 and then exhale for a count of 1…2…3…4…5…6, where each count lasts one second.

It’s worth mentioning that the focus on extended exhalation as a way to relax your breathing is not a new concept. In fact, many yoga traditions have extended exhalation as a core part of their practice. For example, some researchers have tested the effects of pranayama yoga breathing, where the inhalation to exhalation ratio is 1:2, in patients with asthma.

Practice Your Breathing: Reduce Stress By Extending Your Exhale

Take a minute to guide yourself, “Breath in — 1…2…3…4, and breathe out — 1…2…3…4…5…6.”

Focus on normal inhalations, neither too short nor too long, and then extend the exhalation. You will begin to notice yourself calming down, which in turn will better enable you to focus on your upcoming challenges. Yet like most things, using breathing to regulate your nervous system takes practice, so it’s important to make extended exhalations a part of your daily routine.

Regardless of your emotional state, take time to practice extended exhalations for 2-5 minutes (or until you notice your breathing rate relax) every day. As with any habit, daily practice will strengthen your ability to engage in extended exhalation when in a state of high anxiety, panic, or stress.

Finally, encourage your friends and family to adopt a similar breathing practice when in a state of anxiety.

So rather than, “Take a deep breath,” adopt the motto, “Extend your exhale!”

Reference: https://www.ccl.org/blog/deep-breath-stress/

What Are the Characteristics of a Good Leader?

Leaders shape our nation, communities, and organizations.

We need good leaders to help guide us and make the essential large-scale decisions that keep the world moving.

Our society is usually quick to identify a bad leader, but how to identify a good one? What would most people say makes a good leader?

The Characteristics & Qualities of a Good Leader

Based on our research, we’ve found that great leaders consistently possess these 10 core leadership traits:

  • Honesty
  • Ability to delegate
  • Communication
  • Sense of humor
  • Confidence
  • Commitment
  • Positive attitude
  • Creativity
  • Ability to inspire
  • Intuition

While many powerful and successful leaders haven’t exhibited all of these character traits, and the definition of a good leader can be quite ambiguous, most good leaders do leverage at least some of these characteristics.

Our research has also found that other important qualities of a good leader include:

  • Courage
  • Caring
  • Optimism
  • Self-control
  • Communication

Courage: There are two kinds of courage: physical and moral. Leadership character requires moral courage. This means standing up for one’s convictions and values while risking criticism, censure or ridicule. It can also mean risking loss of power, position, or reputation. Moral courage inspires respect for several reasons: it is viewed as being a selfless form of behavior; it is seen as a sign of having overcome fear; and it implies that leaders take responsibility for their own actions.

Caring: Caring means showing sincere interest in and genuine concern for others. It includes consideration, compassion, empathy, sympathy, and nurturing. Caring does not mean tolerating or ignoring shoddy performance, violations of company policies, bad attitudes, or dishonesty. What it does mean is seeing humans as the most important resource in an organization – and the resource with the most overall potential. Leaders who are caring will likely be rewarded with cooperative and supportive behavior in return.

Optimism: This is the tendency to take the most hopeful and cheerful view and to expect the best outcome. Optimists see opportunities, possibilities and silver linings in every situation. They often contend that, with hard work, focus, resilience and a bit of luck, a positive outcome is possible. People are naturally drawn to leaders who are positive, upbeat and cheerful – who have a “We can do this!” type of attitude.

Self-control: Leaders must choose what they will do and not do and then accept the consequences of their choices. This includes personal discipline in behaviors and lifestyle. Self-control implies that as a leader you have sufficient drive and initiative, as well as a clear vision and focus. Self-control keeps a person motivated and focused on goals, and it also contributes to momentum.

Communication: There are, of course, several methods of interpersonal communication – written, verbal, and nonverbal signs, attitudes and body language, as well as communication through actions and appearance. Listening is also an important part of communication. A leader’s communication casts a vision, establishes direction, shapes goals and objectives, reinforces key values and clarifies tasks. Communication makes the emotional connection that is so critical in effective leadership.

Try sharpening these 5 attributes in your leadership style, and your characteristics as a good leader will soon shine.

But if the characteristics of a good leader above don’t describe you, don’t panic — there are ways for you to improve upon your leadership capabilities. At CCL, we believe that leaders are not born, but made, and are molded through experience, continued study, and adaptation.

Work on improving your communication skills, which are essential for good leadership.

Consider too, whether you have the core leadership skills needed in every role, since everyone  – from individual contributors and first-time managers to the most seasoned senior executives – needs these same 4 leadership competencies to be truly effective.

Like any craft, leadership requires that you learn from your mistakes and continually work at strengthening your weaknesses. Seek out a mentor that you admire. Jot down the characteristics that you feel makes them a great leader. Then ask yourself, How do I compare?

Chances are, your role models weren’t always great leaders, so determine what they did along the way to become the leader they are today. And keep working on developing the characteristics of a good leader.

Reference: https://www.ccl.org/blog/characteristics-good-leader/

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