Lots of things happen when we don’t breathe …

and none of them is good.

Some people will be aware of holding their breath when stressed or fearful but generally, they don’t think of the negative impact of not breathing.  Many people are completely unaware that they are doing it.

It is a very common response to stress – it’s a form of holding on.  Why are we holding on? What are we holding on to?  Although intense focus can cause us to hold our breath as we concentrate, we don’t generally hold our breath when we think, so why do we hold it when we are stressed?

There is a strange sense of focus which comes when we hold our breath.  Take a breath now and hold it as you read the next sentence.

Holding your breath can help you concentrate.

Now breathe normally.

Did you feel the intensity of reading the sentence – did you feel the release when you let go of the breath so that you could take another?

Breath is our life source – along with water – we cannot live without it.  It is how we function and holding it puts our whole being on hold.  It’s like waiting.

Waiting for something to end – the rant of a colleague or the dial showing that a test is complete, the end of our sales pitch etc.

If you are dealing with difficult issues in your business then you may be holding your breath more than you imagine. 

The waste product of thinking

When we are anxious we generally breathe in the top third of our lung rather than in the whole lung, taking shallow breaths, this causes us to not fully clear the lung of carbon dioxide.  Carbon dioxide is produced as a waste product which we breathe out and it is generated by everyday functions of the body like moving our muscles or digesting food.  Believe it or not, we also produce it by thinking.

The function of the lung is to provide an exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen, through the capillary action and then the circulation system, to provide our muscles with oxygen. So breathing supplies oxygen to our whole body – including, and importantly, to our brain.

Breathing helps you think

Breathing can also create a moment to gather ourselves and think.  When you are ‘put on the spot’ say by being asked a difficult question, just before you stand up to make a speech or presentation etc.  Take a breath.  It acts as a pause for you to gather yourself and also, of course, gets some oxygen to your brain.  I know an entertainer who pauses to take a breath as he arrives at the spot on the stage, that moment before the performance can be a very effective vehicle to engage with the audience.  It gets their attention.

Try a breathing exercise

Regular abdominal breathing for 20 to 30 minutes a day can reduce stress and anxiety because deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which creates a feeling of calm.

Try this exercise regularly.

So when you are feeling anxious, worried or stressed remember to breathe.  Focus on breathing with the whole of your lung, breathe deeply when you need to be calmer and use it as a pause to connect with and make space for yourself.

Take a deep breath now and let it out slowly – lots of things happen when we do breathe and all of them are good.


Contribution by Elaine Flook – see more articles at elaineflook.com

Elaine is a Performance Therapist and Consultant to Bookable.