5 Breathing Exercises to Tackle Anxiety from your Desk

Your to-do list feels never ending, you’re in back to back meetings all day and you’re watching your inbox slowly mount up. Many situations in work can trigger feelings of overwhelm, anxiety and stress, but for those managing anxiety disorders these challenging work days can lead to debilitating feelings of panic. With 76% of employees reporting moderate-to-high anxiety levels, yet only 13% feeling comfortable to access workplace support, you may find yourself feeling the pressure to suppress and hide your panic throughout the workday. Yet, anxiety has a way of making itself known and can manifest in physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, sweatiness and nausea. These symptoms are often referred to as “fight or flight”. Whilst at home, you may have the option to retreat to a quiet room, practice self-care or get outside to deescalate your anxiety. Workplaces often aren’t set up for such techniques.

Breathing exercises provide an evidence-based and accessible way to deescalate anxiety without having to leave your desk. These techniques work to deescalate your body’s “fight or flight” response by increasing airflow and in turn reducing blood pressure, lowering the heart rate and releasing pent up tension within the abdomen. Here are 5 deep breathing exercises to add to your workplace wellness toolbox:

The 4-7-8 Technique

Coined by Dr Andrew Weil, the 4-7-8 technique involves:

  • Breathing deeply through your nose for 4 breaths, allowing your abdomen to expand
  • Holding that deep breath for a count of 7
  • Exhaling slowly through your mouth for a count of 8

We recommend repeating this exercise four more times or until you begin to feel your heart rate return to normal and your breathing begin to regulate.

Equal Breaths

This simple technique begins with breathing in slowly through the nose for a count of 5, then exhaling gently through the mouth for the count of 5, repeating until you begin to feel a sense of calm return. As you practice this technique, you may wish to increase your inhale and exhale count over time.

Pursed Lip Breathing

This breathing strategy enables you to slow down your breath by applying deliberate effort to each inhale and exhale. Relaxing your shoulders and keeping your mouth closed, inhale slowly through your nose for 2 counts. Then, pursing your lips as though to whistle , exhale slowly for a count of 5. Repeat 5 times or until grounded.

Belly Breathing

  • Place one hand on your chest and the other on your lower stomach
  • Breath in gently through the nose, allowing your abdomen to fill with air
  • Exhale slowly through slightly pursed lips, allowing your hand to rise and fall as your abdomen fills with air and relaxes.
  • Repeat 4 times

Box Breathing

  • Breathe in for a count of 4
  • Hold this breathe for a count of 4
  • Gently exhale for a count of 4
  • Allow your lungs to stay empty for a count of 4
  • Repeat 5 times.

For further support with workplace wellness:

AMH Works provided specialised mental wellbeing training and consultancy to tackle workplace mental ill-health across Northern Ireland.

1 in 5 NI employees are  living with a diagnosed mental illness  and recent research confirms that mental ill-health continues to be the leading cause of long term absence from work. AMH Works is here to help. Our evidence-based prevention and early intervention workshops are designed to equip NI workplaces with the tools to improve employee wellbeing, decrease staff absence and turnover, and create a workplace culture where mental wellbeing thrives.

The AMH works suite of training programmes include:

  • Mindful Manager
  • Mental Health Awareness
  • Compassionate Conversations
  • Personal Resilience
  • Burnout and Rest
  • SafeTALK
  • Mental Health First Aid
  • Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST)

To find out more about how AMH Works can support your organisation to improve the mental and emotional well-being of your employees please contact [email protected] or visit https://www.amh.org.uk/services/amh-works/ .