Image of woman learning how to calm at the Jupiter counseling office of Dr. Ann Marie Semich

Staying Calm During High Stress

Don’t let high stress situations hijack you and take you over.  Stay calm during moments of stress, by using a slow, controlled breathing technique where the exhale is twice as long as the inhale.  This is the best breathing pattern to use when stress or anxiety is heightened and you want to calm down quickly, or need to make good decisions, or communicate effectively.

How It Is Done

  • Start by emptying your lungs of air.
  • Inhale to the count of 4, and
  • Exhale, slowly with control, to the count of 8.
  • Continue this pattern for 5 minutes.

It is that simple. If this feels uncomfortable to you, adjust the breath in a way that allows ease in your breathing, but keep the exhale longer than the inhale.  For example, if you can inhale to the count of 4, but can only exhale to 7, comfortably, this is fine.  You will still experience the same effects.  As you practice, you will be able to elongate the exhale.

Why It Works

The longer, controlled exhalation stimulates the vagus nerve, triggering the release of a neurotransmitter called ACh.  ACh causes the body to move into the parasympathetic system, commonly known as the Relaxation Response.  Research shows that this type of breathing not only promotes a more relaxed state but improves decision-making and diminishes perceived stress.

Adding Self-Talk

In addition to an extended exhalation, you may want to add some basic but helpful self-talk.  An example might be:

  • “I’m feeling stress, but I can release on each exhale.”
  • “It’s okay, I’ve got this.”
  • “I have the ability to calm down by using my breath.”
  • “I have the ability to make wise decisions by using my breath.”
  • “I will take a few minutes, right now to breathe in for the count of 4 and out for the count of 8.”

I highly encourage you to try this simple but empowering technique.  Once you start utilizing it, you will recognize how well it works and you will use it again and again.


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