Weekly challenge: Practice better breathing

After having an incredibly unproductive work day on Friday—due to dealing with the stress of a family member’s minor car accident—I decided that I need to find simple ways to manage those anxious moments that keep me from getting things done.

Sure, a major emergency requires the brain’s full attention, but I’d like to get over those minor road bumps without getting derailed. I’d like to learn formal meditation (it’s on my list to do this spring). But the next best thing is to simply lower my stress response by practicing proper breathing techniques.

I came across this interesting article in the magazine Men’s Journal, which extols a health movement called conscious breathing. We should aim for 10 slow, deep breaths a minute, according to those who follow this movement. Most of us draw in 15 relatively shallow breaths a minute using about a third of our natural lung capacity; when we’re stressed, we probably breathe even more quickly.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

I’m not sure we should always be in a relaxed slow breathing state to be most productive since we do need adrenaline to keep us alert and on task. But when we’re feeling frantic and have too much adrenaline, we should be taking steps to lower those surging stress hormone levels—which can paralyze us in a type of brain freeze—and that’s where deep breathing can come in handy.

It’s also a good way to unwind at the end of the day.

Try a free computer program called breath pacer or this $3 iPhone app to guide you in conscious breathing. Or follow the steps below recommended by Men’s Journal. Let me know how it goes.

Do this exercise five times a day to start thinking and performing better.

1. Inhale deeply

2. Exhale with a short burst (as if blowing out a candle). This helps activate your diaphragm, which most people don’t use.

3. Exhale with a long, slow finish to empty the lungs. Breathlessness comes from not expelling enough CO2.

4. Inhale, filling your lungs from the bottom to the top, instead of taking short sips. Most use a third of their lung capacity.

5. Hold for a moment to allow oxygen to saturate the cells.

6. Exhale slowly and completely.

7. Repeat steps 4 through 6 for five minutes.