• How Mindful Breathing Benefits Mental Health

How Mindful Breathing Benefits Mental Health

State of mind

In a recent study in the UK, only 13% of people reported having high levels of good mental health. In 2016, stress accounted for 45% of all work days lost to absenteeism. Clearly, we can be doing better; these statistics mean that not enough people are happy, healthy, performing well or enjoying their work.

A simple way to bring a pause to stress and anxiety, and actually improve our mental state at the moment, is mindful breathing. We’ll go through the science behind the link between our breath and mind, as well as some of the benefits associated with the practice.

“Interestingly, just as our mental state can change our breathing patterns, we can change our mental state with our breath.”

Biology 101

The autonomic nervous system is responsible for all things related to the body’s unconscious actions. One of those unconscious actions is the breath. In very simple terms, when the body is in ‘rest and digest’ mode, the parasympathetic part of the nervous system is in charge. During times of perceived stress or action, the sympathetic nervous system kicks in and ‘fight or flight’ mode takes over.

Panic stations

Under stress, the usual signs emerge, thanks to the sympathetic nervous system and the release of stress hormones. Raised heart rate, faster breathing, even sweating. This can actually be helpful in real emergencies, and in occasional doses can also help us to concentrate or focus. Replicated relentlessly in a normal office environment, though, it can become counterproductive and unhealthy. Without recovery time from these raised levels, we can experience chronic anxiety or stress.

Why do people need a break?

When the body thinks it is constantly under threat, we find ourselves swimming in high levels of adrenaline and cortisol. Human beings were not designed to cope with raised levels of these stress hormones indefinitely. Consistently high levels of stress can contribute to anxiety, depression, insomnia, high blood pressure, memory and concentration difficulties and a weaker immune system, among other conditions.

Why does this matter in the workplace?

None of those chronic conditions is helpful to people thriving, either at work or at home. We would also argue that poor mental and physical health are only going to make it more and more difficult to be successful at work; in turn causing even more stress. Since most people spend over 50% of their waking hours at work, this is exactly the right place to take action.

Work-related stress and mental ill health are variously estimated to cost the UK anywhere between £6.5 billion and £30 billion per year, and up to 91 million lost working days – more than any other illness. (We talked about the business case for mental health programs in our blog last year.) Aside from those staggering costs, this represents countless numbers of unhappy people, poorly performing teams, and organizations that could be doing better and growing faster.

So, let’s pause for a breath (or two)

There are a lot of potential coping mechanisms for everything we’ve talked about, but we’re going to distil it all down to one simple thing for right now. Mindful breathing. No special equipment, no special training, no previous experience needed.

Interestingly, just as our mental state can change our breathing patterns, we can change our mental state with our breath. Luckily this breath/mind relationship is a two-way street. Going back to the biology at the beginning, mindful breathing practices can return the body to the control of the parasympathetic nervous system, with some pretty amazing results.

There are many forms of advanced breathing and mindfulness techniques out there to be tried and tested. At its most basic, mindful breathing aims to calm the breath and slow the rate of the breathing pattern. In one use case presented to the Food and Drug Administration, deep breathing exercises that slowed breathing to less than 10 breaths per minute actually lowered blood pressure as much as medication would have.

Mindful breathing: Healthy mind, healthy body

When someone takes time out, slows their breathing and focuses on counting through those breaths, some interesting things happen. Unsurprisingly, the heart rate will slow down, emotions come back under control, tension should dissipate and the mind will clear. Perhaps surprisingly, mindful breathing can also have some other effects over the short and long term.

It can help decrease anxiety and depression, improve sleep, lower blood pressure, increase energy, improve memory and concentration, strengthen the immune system and create the conditions for more empathy and compassion. Every single one of these elements of health is something that benefits us in our professional and personal lives. Instead of being in a downward spiral of decreasing energy and ability to be successful, we can take a few minutes for ourselves to course correct. Changing heart rate variability in practice will even change how people react to stressful situations in the future.

Your turn

Try a few minutes of mindful breathing for yourself. It may take a little practice to focus your attention inward, but you’ll go back out to your team, friends or family in a better mental state. Taking time out before or after a stressful meeting, taking a break in the middle of a difficult creative project, doing a mindful breathing practice before pressing send on that email. Or better yet, before writing that email… Now, imagine everyone around you was doing the same from time to time. What would your team look like then?

#mentalillness in #Youth read how 21 friends supported youth mental health by running 21km.
#Youth #mentalhealth #MentalHealthAwareness #MentalHealthMatters

Looks like this would have been not only a great way to stay fit but awesome way to raise fund! Our GM in APAC, stomping the stadium!

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