Like any stressful event, Covid-19 and all its related challenges can activate your sympathetic nervous system, signalling your body to go into “fight-or-flight” mode.

When you are afraid, your heart beats faster, your muscles tense up and your breathing can become erratic. This has a negative impact on your performance in the workplace. Even if that workplace is currently your home. Control these physical responses, and you can control fears and anxieties.


Breathing exercises can help activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the relaxation response.

When you’re feeling anxious, you may notice you are breathing into the top of your chest and your breathing may have become more rapid and shallow. Here are some ways to relax through breathing

Square breathing

My clients often find this exercise easy, quick, and effective in the moment when they first notice feeling anxious.

Breath in through your nose and out through your mouth throughout this exercise. Breath in for 4 counts, hold for 4, breath out for 4, hold for 4. Do this for a few minutes until you feel calmer.

Lengthening the out-breath

Inhaling deeply may not always calm you down because taking too many deep breaths too quickly can cause you to hyperventilate. When you feel anxious or under stress, it’s easier to breathe too much and end up hyperventilating — even when you’re trying to do the opposite.

Before you take a big, deep breath in, try a full exhale first. Push all the air out of your lungs, then simply let your lungs do their work inhaling air.

Next, try spending a little bit longer exhaling than you do inhaling, try inhaling for four seconds, then exhale for six. Build up to inhaling for four seconds and out for eight.

Aim to do this for two to five minutes.

Diaphragmatic breathing

  1. Sit or lie in a comfortable position
  2. Relax your shoulders.
  3. Put a hand on your chest and a hand on your stomach.
  4. Breathe in through your nose for about two seconds. You should experience the air moving through your nostrils into your abdomen, making your stomach expand. Make sure your stomach is moving outward while your chest remains relatively still.
  5. Press gently on your stomach, and exhale slowly through pursed lips for about two seconds.

Practice these activities several times to increase their impact.


Interrupt your thought pattern, which is creating your anxious feelings, by doing something… anything,

For example:

  • Get up and move
  • Take a walk
  • Go and sit outside for a few minutes
  • Go and get a glass of water or a hot drink.
  • Play music
  • Phone someone

Anything that changes your state will interrupt the anxious feelings and enable you to re-focus yourself.


When I work with clients who are feeling anxious, I often help them notice their body language. They tend to be hunched over (protecting their upper body – heart and lungs) have their head down and looking down. They generally appear closed up, as if to take up as little room as possible.

On the other hand, when I see clients who are resilient, engaged, on top of their game their heads are up, making great eye contact, shoulders relaxed, chests open.

So, when you are feeling anxious, notice your body language and change it.

  • Stand up straight
  • Chin-up
  • Eyes up
  • Shoulders back and down
  • Chest open
  • Feet firmly planted on the floor and shoulder-width apart

If you can’t do this fully, do what you can, it will still make a difference.

Bonus Tip!

If you combine these activities, you will get even greater benefit.

For example:

  • Get into a good posture then practice a breathing technique
  • Move to sit outside, relax your shoulders, open your chest, and practice some long exhales

If you’d like help in increasing the mental toughness of your teams then book in a call with me on 07971 793558

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