Using the Breath to Decrease Stress and Increase Productivity in the Corporate World
Are your employees stressed out? Do they lack productivity? The American Institute of Stress reports that job-related stress is one of the leading causes of stress for American adults, costing over $300 billion annually to employers. Additionally, it results in diminished productivity, employee turnover, direct medical, insurance costs, legal costs, absenteeism and worker’s compensation claims.
In Dying for a Paycheck, Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business, explains how the stress from long work hours, work-family conflict, and lack of good health insurance are killing people. A large fraction of health care costs in the developed world, some estimate up to 75%, is from chronic diseases. There are a growing number of studies that suggest these chronic diseases (i.e. cardiovascular issues, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome) along with poor health choices such as overeating and drug and alcohol abuse, are caused by stress. In a 2012 survey, 21% of employees reported stress as the main source of errors and missed deadlines at work; 15.5% had difficulty getting along with colleagues; 14.9% missed days at work; and 14.4% said stress made them late.
A recent study including over 2,000 volunteers from the famed Framingham Heart Study found that participants with the highest levels of the stress related hormone cortisol performed worst on tests of memory, organization, visual perception, and attention. They also found physical changes in the brain related to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Sadly, the majority of the participants were only in their 40s.
“Before you can take control of your mind, you must first calm it down. The fastest way to calm your mind, along with your body, is through slow and controlled deep breathing.” Mark Devine, Navy Seal and CEO of SealFit
Training your employees to combat stress and increase productivity
One piece of low hanging fruit to combat detrimental stress is to become aware of your breathing. Dr. Leon Chaitow goes into great detail in his book, Recognizing and Treating Breathing Disorders, about how breathing influences every system in your body. Dysfunctional Breathing Patterns (“DBP”), (i.e. breathing into the upper-chest, mainly with the mouth, and not activating the diaphragm) is associated with the body’s stress response, resulting in a chronically stressed state. DBPs are associated with issues such as anxiety, asthma, insomnia, and cardiovascular issues. Learning proper breathing can add tremendous benefits to your bottom line and your employee’s day-to-day lives. When we learn to breathe properly, (through the nose, activating our diaphragm), it will put our nervous system in the parasympathetic state, allowing us to rest, relax, and digest. This allows our bodies to get out of the stressful state, lowers our heart rate, improves cognitive function, and increases creativity.
Not only is learning how to breathe properly important for you and your employees, beginning a conscious breathing practice is extremely important. Learning to access your breath will allow you to change your mental state. It will allow you to go from tense and stressed out to calm and relaxed. It can give you the time to step back from the problem at hand and allow you to look at it with fresh eyes.
A simple technique that I teach to my clients is called “box-breathing.” The breath has four components, an inhale, a hold, an exhale, and a hold. With box-breathing, we keep an equal ratio for each part. Start with inhaling through the nose for three seconds, hold for three, exhale through the nose for three, hold for three and repeat. In as little as five minutes your body and mind are in a much more relaxed and alert state.
To Sum it Up
Stress is a major problem in the workplace and successful leaders recognize that always pushing your team to work harder and harder is not the best way to move forward in today’s environment. You and your employees must have the energy to turn it on when the time comes or when faced with stressful situations and complex issues. Your team must also have the ability to manage their reactions and stress responses in this increasingly complex world we live in. Conscious breathing is a powerful tool that can help you thrive in uncertainty; work through complex issues, problem solving, and mange the constant pressures of today’s corporate environment. It will not only give your team the space to respond instead of react to stressful situations but it will also improve their overall well-being.
Call To Action
As research shows, job-related stress is costing companies billions of dollars and killing employees. What kind of workplace do you want for your employees? By using simple and effective tools I can help you combat this stress for yourself and improve the well-being of your employees. If you would like to learn more, check out my website www.symmetry.live to learn more about how I can help change your relationship with stress.