Feeling stressed out at work has become the norm in America, and it's taking a toll on our wellbeing. According to a study on Attitudes in the American Workplace, 80% of respondents reported feeling stressed at work, 35% said that their jobs were harming their physical or emotional health, and 42% revealed that job pressures interfered with their personal life. Fortunately, one of the best proven methods for relieving stress is easy, free, and can be done anywhere, all the time: deep, focused breathing. It’s so simple that it seems too good to be true.

We asked several experts about stress relief, and they suggested these simple deep breathing techniques to help ease stress during the workday. Check out these 5 great focused breath tips from professionals who have first-hand experience helping others with stress management.

1. Mindful Minute: Chest Breathing

“Your breath is the most portable self-help and self-care tool that you have. It is always with you. That's why I constantly say that your breath should be your BFF! Taking deep breaths helps to immediately calm your nervous system and bring you back to calm and balance,” said Ali Katz, who is a meditation expert, best-selling author, motivational speaker, and certified self-care and mindful parenting coach.

Follow these simple steps:

  1. Place your hand on your upper chest, above your breastbone, with your middle finger tips touching.
  2. Take a breath into your belly and feel as if you are blowing up a balloon in your belly. You will be filling it up completely.
  3. Send the air up into your chest cavity. You will feel your fingertips separate a bit.
  4. Let all of the air out, like you are releasing all the air from that balloon, and feel your fingers touch once again.
  5. Do as many rounds as you want, but aim for five to ten.

Here’s Ali’s video demonstration for this breathing exercise:

“I really like this 'chest-breathing' technique because it helps you fill your entire belly and chest cavity with fresh breath, as opposed to breathing into only one area of your body and not filling completely,” says Ali.

2. Breathwork At Work

This breathing exercise is great for de-stressing during the workday, recommended by Erin Michaela Sweeney, a yoga teacher who has guided students in many forms of pranayama, the Sanskrit word for breathwork. Follow the step-by-step instructions below: 

  1. Sit at the front of your chair with feet flat on the floor and your hands resting in your lap.
  2. Close your eyes or unfocus your gaze.
  3. Inhale through the nose to the count of 2: 1...2...
  4. Exhale through the nose to the count of 4: 4...3...2...1...
  5. Repeat.
  6. Either continue at this breath count or extend it to inhaling to the count of 4 and exhaling to the count of 8.
  7. Repeat for about 10 cycles.
  8. If you lose count, return to the beginning of the inhalation, starting to the count of 2 again.

Erin recommends trying out this pranayama exercise, “whenever you feel your shoulders up near your ears or you seem not to be able to take a full breath.” 

3. Pre-Meeting 15-Minute Deep Breathing

If you have some time, 15 minutes or so, this is a great prep before a big meeting or presentation. Try this exercise recommended by John McGrail, PhD, a clinical hypnotherapist. This easy exercise “will reduce stress and increase work performance,” says John. “This is a great exercise to do first thing in the morning and right after lunch, easy times to remember.”

  1. Sit quietly.
  2. Close your eyes (if you can).
  3. Take 21 slow, deep breaths; count down from 21 to 0.
  4. At 0, picture yourself at a time or event when you were kicking butt and taking names. Let the energy of the memory fill you up.
  5. Now, go get 'em.

John is also a self-improvement expert and personal and relationship coach based in Los Angeles. His book is called The Synthesis Effect: Your Direct Path to Personal Power and Transformation.

4.  Take 12 Complete Breaths

John McGrail also has a great breath exercise you can do when you have much less time to spare. He suggests taking 12 complete breaths. A complete breath goes like this:

  1. Breathe in for 5 seconds.
  2. Hold for 5 seconds.
  3. Breathe out for 5 seconds.

12 complete breaths should take 3 minutes. Afterwards, says John, “You will feel calm, centered, focused and ready for your next task or event.”

5. 3-Minute Unwind  

“It takes 3 mins for your brain and body to unwind so give yourself time,” according to Erin Paruszewski, a holistic health coach and the founder and CEO of Alkalign Studios, a wellness company committed to transforming the body through fitness, nutrition, and mindfulness offerings. “This is not something that can be rushed. Initially, 3 minutes will feel like an eternity, but as you practice your breath, it will become more natural.” When you find yourself in a stressful situation with your misbehaving kids, road rage, a nagging boss, or even insomnia, Erin suggests that you stop and take 3 deep breaths before reacting.

  1. Sit up tall (just sitting taller helps you feel better, it also opens your airway!).
  2. Inhale through your nose.
  3. Exhale through your mouth.
  4. 4 counts in, 4 counts out on breath 1. Increase the length of the inhale and exhale on each breath and continue to count your breath.
  5. When your mind or thoughts start to drift, return to your breath. Focus on counting if that helps, or try visualizing a wave rising and falling or a tide coming and going.

Have you tried any of these breathing techniques or do you have any favorite tips to share? Let us know in the comments below. 

About the Expert Contributors: 

Ali Katz is a best-selling author, motivational speaker, certified self-care and mindful parenting coach, and a meditation expert. Her most recent book, Hot Mess to Mindful Mom: 40 Ways to Find Balance and Joy in Your Every Day, was published in April 2017. 

Erin Michaela Sweeney is a writer, mommy, yogini, daughter, editor, sister, and napper extraordinaire who lives in Claremont, California. In 2015, she published Every Breath Is a Gift: Reflections on My Leukemia Journey. Her upcoming book is about using the insights of yoga to rebound from cancer.

Erin Paruszewski is a holistic health coach and the founder and CEO of Alkalign Studios, a wellness company committed to transforming the body through fitness, nutrition and mindfulness offerings. She develops effective alignment-focused strength and functionality workouts so that the effort people put in today not only gets results, but also sustains their future health. 

John McGrail, PhD, is a clinical hypnotherapist, self improvement expert and personal/relationship coach based in Los Angeles. He is the author of The Synthesis Effect: Your Direct Path to Personal Power and Transformation. He has also published numerous articles on behavior modification and self-empowerment.