You can read hundreds of stress management books in search for ways on how to relieve stress – but the most powerful of all the stress management techniques is right underneath your nose…

In recent news, it was reported that:

  1. Labor chief Sto. Tomas (Philippines) quits due to stress and workload [1]
  2. Stress is causing soaring sickness rates among UK teachers [2]
  3. Twenty-five percent of university students have sought counselling in the UK to help them cope with the stress of exams (finals) [3]
  4. 97 percent of IT professionals feel traumatized by their daily work. Indeed, 80 percent of them get tense just thinking about going to the office. [4]

Is it the heavy workload, multi-tasking requirement, replying to time urgent emails, or performance pressure that is creating all this stress and ill-health?

Actually, none of these things cause stress.

Did you know that when you are feeling rushed, pressured, on the go all the time or overloaded, physical tension builds up in your chest – your chest muscles contract. This forces you to breathe shorter, sharper and shallower.

Consistent shallow breathing has been found to cause fatigue, increase in error rates, emotional tension, forgetfulness, and even health issues such as asthma, colds, anxiety/panic attacks, and indigestion. Rapid and shallow breathing increases neck and shoulder tension and raises the risk of hyperventilation [5] Rapid breathing and tension creates a state of stress.

Other research has found that when your body’s cells are starved of up to 60% of oxygen they become cancerous.

A clinical study of thousands of participants over a 30-year period presents convincing evidence that the most significant factor in peak health and long life is how well you breathe [6]. In a recent interview I conducted with Thomas Goode, from the International Breath Association at, he explained why proper breathing habits are essential to good health and relieving stress. (You can hear the entire interview with Tom at )

Stress relief is not about escaping the stress in your life. The key in how to relieve stress is creating a sense of calm inside you.

It is not people, emails, deadlines, or workload that creates stress – but the way in which our body physically, mentally and emotionally is conditioned to respond to these events. The key, being, your breathing habits.

So, what is the right way to breathe?

There are many different breathing techniques, depending on whether it is to prepare for a situation (meeting, conflict, presentation), during the situation or after the situation. I have dedicated an entire chapter to Resilient Breathing patterns in my e-book ‘turn Stress into Energy and Enthusiasm’ at

Here is a short excerpt:

“One of the most potent keys to expanding your capacity when you are under pressure is to control your breathing pattern during your day-to-day work. Every day you take between 16,000 and 23,000 breaths, and each breath takes in about 250ml of oxygen and disposes of 200ml of carbon dioxide.

…In many Eastern traditions, breath is seen as the ‘essence of life’ and healing, and is known as ‘Qi’ (chi), ‘prana’, or ‘life force’. For centuries the Yoga gurus have trained themselves to control their breathing rate to the point where they are able to slow their heart rate down, reduce their blood pressure, dramatically increase or decrease their body temperature, and control the amount of pain they feel in their body. In his book ‘You Can Conquer Cancer’, Ian Gawler explains how he used breathing techniques and meditation to block the pain during a root canal procedure – an ordinarily very painful process.

The rate, depth and quality of your breathing can increase your energy levels, calm your nerves, clear your mind, enhance your health and even block pain.”

There are 3 general breathing principles that apply to each situation. They are:

Allow your abdomen (belly) to move in and out as you breathe. Allow your breathing to be deep in your abdomen, instead of being shallow in your chest.

This allows your diaphragm to efficiently draw air in and out of your body. Sitting for long periods often tenses the abdomen muscles, reducing the depth of each breath. As you breathe in, allow your abdomen to move out.
As you breathe out, allow your abdomen to move in. (This is the natural way you breathe when you are asleep)

Remind your body to be in an upright position, instead of stooped or hunched over posture. Being hunched over a computer all day can get your body into the habit of tensing stomach and chest muscles – which restricts your breathing.

Every so often, stop what you are doing and deliberately sit up straight (in fact, try it right now as you read this article). Notice the difference your body position can make to your breathing pattern.

Taking longer rhythmic breaths both calm your body and help to focus your mind. Breathing in for 4-5 seconds, holding for 2 seconds, then breathing out for 4-5 seconds is a good starting frequency to create positive breathing habits.

“But I will forget to do it!”, I hear you say

Sure – unless you make a habit of breathing deeper, with better body position, and good frequency every day, you will probably fall back into stress induced short, sharp and shallow breathing habits.

Short of writing little reminders for myself, I use a software program called “Smooth” – which is a computer based deep breathing assistant. Smooth is a computer program that reminds me to breathe deeply and rhythmically by displaying a small icon that expands and contracts at a relaxed breathing rate. You can read more about the software at

Remember, using your breathing as a stress relief tool is quick and very efficient. This is the most potent of all the stress management techniques because your breathing patterns controls your emotions, and you can control your breathing.


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