75% of employees believe that workers face more on-the-job stress than a generation ago. For this reason, many employers complain more than ever about their employees’ lack of productivity. This, in turn, impacts the business’ operations and bottom line.
Therefore, it is vital to invest in employees’ mental wellbeing, as this will allow you organization to flourish at the hands of happy, productive people.
One way that is proven for managing stress at work is breathwork.
What is Breathwork?
Breathwork is a set of different breathing exercises that are practiced to achieve physical and emotional stability. This technique consists of intentionally controlling breathing patterns.
According to a report published by Insider, Richie Bostock, known as the Breath Guy, regards breathing as “the body’s very own Swiss Army knife,” as it affects so many aspects of life. People feel relaxed and energized after performing systematic and conscious breathwork. Simply put, breathwork is conscious breathing that teaches you how you can control your breathing rate.
In order to understand more, practice with me.
Breath in, relaxing your abdominal muscles so that your belly goes out. Hold your breath for a count of four. Now breathe out, tightening your abdominal muscles so that your belly comes in. This is breathwork! As simple as that.
Why is Breathwork Important for Reducing Stress and Increasing Productivity?
Breathwork is one of the most effective ways to boost productivity for the following reasons.
It’s a Super Quick Way to Reduce Stress
Studies show that different emotions induce different types of breathing. For instance, our breathing is deep, slow and regular when we feel joy. Conversely, our breathing pattern will be shallow, fast, and irregular when we are stressed.
Research published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2017 found that specimens (test subjects) who completed 20 breathwork sessions in an 8-week period had reduced cortisol levels compared to those who received no training.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that is released when we feel tense or stressed.
It Heightens Consciousness
“Conscious breathing heightens awareness and deepens relaxation.”
Dan Brule, Breathwork Expert
Breathwork has a direct correlation with consciousness and awareness of our surroundings. It also affects the way our conscious and subconscious brains function. Moreover, it makes room for our creative mind to come into play and allows us to achieve deeper levels of mindfulness. As in, we live more in the present moment with fuller-fledged consciousness.
It Improves Focus
A study published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition in 2018 showed that a practice focused on breathwork increased the attention span of research participants.
Another research conducted by Trinity College Dublin found that regulated breathing balanced the amount of noradrenaline. Noradrenaline is a chemical messenger in the body that influences attention span and some emotions, eventually improving focus.
It Improves Sleep
Many factors affect our sleep patterns. Excessive use of mobile phones and social media, stress and consumption of caffeinated beverages (coffee/tea) and sugar all act as stimulants, and can result in sleep deprivation.
However, by using breathwork, we can control the negative impact of these stimulants. Breathwork helps calm down the nervous system which then minimizes the effects of stimulants, helping us fall asleep faster and enjoy a sounder sleep.
How Does Breathwork Create a Relaxation Response?
Let’s dig deep into how breathwork creates a relaxation response.
It Reduces Our Stress Hormone Level
Cortisol is a stress hormone that is responsible for our bodys’ response to physical and emotional stress. Too much stress causes a surge in cortisol levels, and chronically high cortisol levels are a recipe for diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.
When we act calm and inhale deeply, cortisol production decreases, and our body returns to a normal state.
It Releases Toxins from the Body
Our body expels about 50% of toxins when we practice deep breathing. One of the prime toxic substances released this way is carbon dioxide. (We release carbon dioxide during exhalation).
Carbon dioxide is acidic in nature. As we breathe faster, we get rid of more and more of this acidic molecule, shifting the pH of our blood from acidic to alkaline.
With deep breathwork, our diaphragm expands (the diaphragm is a sheet of muscle underneath the lungs which is responsible for controlling the lungs’ movement ). This expansion relaxes the body and massages our lymphatic system. This, in turn, facilitates the elimination of toxins.
With continuous and regular exercise, your body eradicates toxins more often. The more toxins are expelled from the body, the more oxygen-rich blood is allowed to circulate around the body.
Breathwork Increases Muscle Tone
Muscle tone is the tension or stiffness observed in relaxed muscles. Or the resistance felt in stretching a joint when muscles are at rest.
There are a few things to notice when blood becomes alkaline after releasing carbon dioxide through exhaling. First, free calcium ions circulating our body bind with large protein molecules called albumin. This protein prevents fluid leakage from the bloodstream to other body tissues.
Consequently, our body feels calcium-deficient for some time. This low-calcium state triggers a tingling sensation, contraction of smooth muscles, and an increase in muscle tone.
According to a report by Penn Medicine, the muscles of our diaphragm are responsible for 80% of breathing. By practicing breathwork we exercise and strengthen the diaphragm, hence facilitating deep breathing.
It Promotes Anti-inflammatory Activity
Neurons are the signaling cells that send and receive messages to and from the brain, respectively.
During hyperventilation (when our blood pH increases, taking it from acidic to alkaline during the exhalation), our neurons also receive more stimulation. This stimulation results in the release of more epinephrine – commonly known as adrenaline. Adrenaline is a hormone that increases blood circulation, relaxes muscles and regulates carbohydrate metabolism.
Research shows that this surge in epinephrine levels boosts the innate immune system’s anti-inflammatory activity (a response against infectious agents). The study’s findings revealed that, for test subjects who had practiced breathwork, their bodies demonstrated a low inflammatory response after exposure to bacterial toxins, compared to those who had not completed breathwork practices.
It Improves Blood Pressure and Blood Circulation
Maintaining a healthy blood pressure is hugely important for all of us. However, for those who struggle with stress and anxiety attacks, blood pressure regulation is fundamental, as continuous stress is a prominent risk factor for hypertension.
Breathwork is renowned for regulating blood pressure and overall blood circulation. According to a study performed by the International Journal of Pharma and Bio Sciences, people with high blood pressure benefit most from breathwork. The results demonstrated lower blood pressure and improved blood circulation in research participants.
Breathwork Elevates Mood
Another upside of taking long, deep breaths is improved mental wellbeing. Yale University conducted a study in which test subjects participated in a breathwork program. Later, they reported improved overall mood and a significant reduction in depression, stress, and anxiety. This development manifested as positive outcomes like greater mindfulness and socializing more often.
It Boosts Immunity
The more we breathe, the more oxygen we inhale, and the more our body’s cells benefit from being rich in energy. With daily breathwork practice, our body provides us with extra energy. Long, deep and regular breaths lend a helping hand in reducing stress in the event of a lack of sleep or an exhausting day.
Stress reduction reduces cortisol and activates the parasympathetic nervous system (coming later). Usual, regulated body functions work towards boosting immunity.
Breathwork strengthens immunity by reducing stress.
What’s more, improved stamina allows us to take our workout sessions to the next level as our blood is brimming with oxygen and our body overflows with energy.
It Helps Ease Anxiety Levels
“We try all these different things for stress, but if you’re not breathing in a way that tells your nervous system that it’s time to relax, you won’t get there.”
Belisa Vranich, Clinical Psychologist
Long, deep breaths originating from the abdomen induce calmness. The science behind this is the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system and the deactivation of the sympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system exposes us to fight or flight mechanisms and is activated during emergencies. The heart rate escalates, pupils dilate, and blood vessels suffer an increase in pressure.
On the contrary, the parasympathetic nervous system triggers rest and digest activities. It’s associated with lowering the heart rate and decreasing blood pressure to normal. In this state, we feel better, and our ability to think decisively and rationally returns.
In addition, neuroscientists have observed a link between the reduction in symptoms of depression and a rise in alpha brain waves.
Types of Brain Waves
There are five types of brain waves that our brain produces throughout the day. These waves can shift negative thought patterns to the positive ones. Therefore, they play a part in helping reduce stress and depression.
Below, we summarise when each type of brain wave is activated.
Alpha – activated after ensuring mental wellbeing
Beta – activated when we are attentive, deep in thought, making decisions or solving problems. These brainwaves are also induced when we are faced with agitation, stress, fear, obsession, or an emergency.
Gamma – occurs in the prime of consciousness, for example, during heightened perception learning, high cognitive processing, and problem-solving tasks
Theta – activated upon achieving next-level mental silence, inducing deep insights and boosting creativity
Delta – activated when we are in a state of sound sleep and lose conscious awareness of our body and surroundings.
Being an employer, your priority is to make sure your employees are mentally and physically well. If they are under stress – specifically chronic stress – they will be unable to pull off their tasks at work in a sustainable manner. By helping them reduce their stress levels, they will become more energetic, more productive and more efficient; yielding positive outcomes for your business.
How are you going to ensure your employees’ mental wellbeing?