Conductor with Baton

…and none of them are good.

Welcome to the second blog in the series Six Tools to Build Self Confidence. Most people will be aware of holding their breath when stressed or fearful.  I notice it in the Consulting Room when I make an intervention.  The client will hold their breath when they are searching for an answer. A simple response to the instruction ‘Breathe’ can release the tension in the body and the client will very often then find the words or emotion to express themselves.

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?

It comes as a part of our overall general tension when anxious.  It’s a kind of ‘holding on’.  We hold our breath when we see something shocking happen, often after a sharp intake of breath.

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.  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 our brain.

Pause for breath

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.

Think of the moment when the conductor raises his baton and there is a very short pause before the orchestra starts to play.  It is part of the music but it is silence, a pause, a moment for the orchestra to bring their energy together in order to perform the piece.

You can use this pause, in the same way, to gather yourself, rather than launching into something because you are anxious.

When I was talking to someone last week about writing this blog, she told me that in times of great anxiety she had found her breath to be a great comfort because it was always there and it was one of the things she could control.  It is hers, personal and private and no one could mess with it unless she let them.

Breathing exercise

Regular abdominal breathing for 20 to 30 minutes a day can actually 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 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.

If you would like to learn how to control your anxiety and increase your self-confidence, please book a Free Discovery Session.


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