At some point last year 75% of us felt so stressed that we felt overwhelmed and were unable to cope. A large global report found that 36% of us report feeling highly or extremely stressed at work.
It’s safe to say we’re in the midst of a stress epidemic. Although not identical (but very similar) we're witnessing an associated rise in the levels of anxiety, depression, and suicide; according to a WHO report numbers of depression rose 18.4% between 2005 and 2015. ()
One step towards becoming less stressed is to cultivate your resilience. Resilience is defined in two ways:
Your capacity to recover quickly from difficulties - toughness, Your ability to spring back into shape - elasticity.
I like the combination of these two ideas: toughens and elasticity. It leads nicely into the often sited analogy of resilience being like a bouncy ball. You bounce back.
Difficulties and challenges will happen. Becoming a resilient worker is to cultivate the skill in bouncing back well. When you do this well:
- You conquer stress and overwhelm,
- You’re better able to face challenges work inevitably throws at you,
- You work will become more fulfilling and enjoyable,
- and you’ll be more engaged and perform better.
To support your capacity for resilience I want to share with you a technique that involves the breath, body and mind. This technique is designed to:
Help you ‘bounce’ when things get tough,
Cultivate a calm and centred mindset,
Enhance your capacity for a positive and winning attitude.
It’s called The Centring Breath as has there parts to it:
Part 1: The Breath
Part 2: Ujjayi
Part 3: A Winning Mindset
Part 1: The Breath
This first part is about controlling the length and depth of your breath. Never constrict your breath beyond comfort and do this according to your own count.
The structure of this exercise is to breathe in for a count to 6, hold in for 2, then breath out to a count of 7.
6 - 2 - 7
Let’s do it together now:
Breathing IN .. 2 .. 3 .. 4 .. 5 .. 6
HOLD for 1.. 2
And breathe OUT 2 .. 3.. 4.. 5.. 6.. 7
This part is quite simple. Which is useful, because when overwhelm hits us, we want something simple and easy to remember to turn to.
Have another go now; in for 6, hold for 2, out for 7. Any questions please put them in the comments below.
Part 2: Ujjayi Breathing
You can combine this counting with ‘Ujjayi’ - a yogic breathing technique with a variety of benefits. Firstly, the technique:
You breathe through your nose while making a slight physical constriction at the back of your throat. The muscles you use are deep within your neck, just where your neck joins the back of your jaw.
It’s a gentle constriction, the breath should still flow easily, but - when done correctly - you’ll hear a slight sonorous sound inside your head.
And so my friend, put these two techniques together.
In for 6, hold for 2, and out for 7 all while doing ujjayi breathing both on the way in and on the way out.
Have a go at that now. (I know these practical steps are slowing you down but just go with it, this practice could really help you.
So, hands up if you’ve got it? Again, any questions or confusion just ask (in the comments below). You can also find tonnes of useful instructional videos about this online if it’s unclear.
The effects of these two techniques in combination are:
- You can hear your breath which makes it easier to put your attention on it. Placing your attention on your breath is the fastest and simplest way to deal with a sense of overwhelm while cultivating resilience.
- Oxygenating your body and mind helps lower levels of stress related hormones and has you feel physically and mentally better resources to deal with whatever you’re facing.
- By breathing slowly you stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system which is the part of your nervous system that is responsible for digestion, rest, relaxation and cell rejuvenation. This has a calming effect on the body and mind. Calmness is good.
Once you’re comfortable with part 1 and 2 you can add in your winning mindset.
Part 3: A Winning Mindset
Your centring breath helps you to turn your attention inwards, slow yourself down, and create a pause between the experience of life and your response to what you’re experiencing.
In that gap, as you breathe, you can choose to cultivate a more positive, optimistic and useful attitude. Ryan Holiday, in his great book ‘The Obstacle is the Way’ based on Stoic philosophy shares that:
"We choose how we look at things … how we approach, view, and contextualise an obstacle, and what we tell ourselves what it means, determines how daunting and trying it will be to overcome."
Apply this thinking to a recent stressful challenge. In a moment of calm (now as you've been doing all that calm breathing!) you realise that you can actually decide on an attitude that will make the situation far less challenging.
For example, was it an opportunity to learn, a chance to progress yourself, or a challenge to communicate something to somebody in a way that they will understand?
Marcus Aurelius, the founder of Stoic philosophy said:
What’s crucial for us is that you can choose that perspective. You might have seen this before but there is a much copied quote from Victor Frankle that says:
Do this now: bring to mind a recent challenge or difficulty. Then, as you're doing your centring breath (with ujjayi if you're comfortable) decide on a winning attitude that you can bring to this situation.
For example, a recent workshop attendee shared that recent challenges in work were helping her to learn about what she didn't want from a job. That shift in perspective means that when the next challenge arises she is in a far better situation because of her winning mindset.
Now, put them all together:
- Winning Mindset
So there you have it. The 'bounce' in your resilience training. Breathe deeply, calm yourself down, think in a good way. And you have yourself an invaluable tool for facing the challenges of the modern work place, for dealing with all kinds of stress and overwhelm, and for remaining calm and positive in the midst of all this.
I really hope this helps you. Please ask any questions you have below and perhaps even share a story of when you’ve used this, or a similar technique, to help you in a moment of challenge.
If you’ve liked this you might want to know that I work with individuals and organisations helping them become more resilient and deal with the challenges of our modern world of work.
For example; this week I'm delivering a half day workshops for Work Well Being for a large public sector organisation which focus on the participants leaving with a resilience toolkit.
Reach out to me if you'd like to explore how this workshop may help solve the issue of stress and overwhelm in your workplace.