Knowing a few simple breathwork strategies can be a valuable tool for nurses during a hectic workday. While you’re probably most familiar with the pursed lip breathing technique you use on your patients who are short of breath, other types of breathwork can be beneficial to you, the clinician, as an active self-care activity. Breathwork can help you feel more relaxed, lessen anxiety, energize you, and experience an overall reduction in stress–all things you need when your job places you in intense situations from time to time. Since breathing can be both an unconscious and conscious activity, a common belief among various mind-body practices is that breathing is a way to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the nervous system, enhancing your sense of well-being. The following breathing techniques are easy to use while you’re on the go, and they will help you inhale and exhale your way through challenging situations.
1. The Five Count Breath
This breathing technique is borrowed from Pilates as a way to oxygenate your body and diminish muscle tension (particularly in your rib cage and thoracic spine). Begin with a long inhale through your nose as you count to five. As you take a breath, picture your lungs filling up with fresh, restorative air. Next, count to five as you slowly exhale all the air out of your lungs. Imagine wringing the stale air out of your lungs. If possible, close your eyes while doing this exercise to envision the inflation and deflation of your lungs. Repeat this cycle five to 10 times as needed to reduce stress.
2. Belly Breathing
When your body is tense, your breathing has a tendency to become quick and shallow. Whereas, when you’re in a relaxed state, your breath flows more deeply from your abdomen. The belly breathing technique helps to bring your body back to a state of calm and can be used in settings where you’re trying to remain inconspicuous. In his book, The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, clinical psychologist, Dr. Edmund J. Bourne, PhD, lists some benefits of belly breathing, such as:
- Enhancing the connection between the mind and body.
- Better concentration.
- Increased feelings of tranquility.
- A quieter mind.
Belly breathing isn’t difficult to perform. To begin, Inhale through your nose and let the breath first fill your lungs with air and progress to filling your abdomen. If you were to place your hand on your belly, you could see it rise during inhalation. Next, slowly exhale your breath through your nose emptying out as much air as possible. If your hand was on your abdomen, it would now be falling toward your spine. Do this sequence 10-15 times, and you should feel an increased sense of serenity.
3. Alternate Nostril Breathing
This yogic breathing technique may look a little silly doing it in front of others, but it’s meant to bring harmony to your body, integrate the right and left sides of your brain, energize you, and encourage focus. It’s a caffeine boost minus the caffeine. To start, use your thumb to press your right nostril closed while you inhale deeply through your left nostril. When your lungs are full of air, press the left nostril closed using your ring finger and exhale through your right nostril. Continue this cyclical pattern of inhaling through your right nostril and exhaling through your left for approximately 30 seconds to reset your body. Although it might take a few tries to get this breathing exercise right, once you’ve got the hang of it, you should feel more at ease and settled.