Join Jeff Ansell for an in-depth discussion in this video Breathing properly, part of Communicating with Confidence.
- To connect with others when we communicate, we first need to connect with ourselves, and to do that, we need to breathe. Do you ever stop to recognize that often in stressful situations, especially when your confidence is low, that your breathing goes haywire? In moments of nervousness during meetings, presentations, or difficult conversations, people can lose touch with themselves. Sometimes they stop breathing or engage in shallow gasps, forcing their chest to pump and their heart to beat fast.
Often, they're not breathing at all, instead, holding their breath, and that leaves us more tense and less natural. When we engage in high chested breathing or hold our breath, we cut our oxygen supply making it difficult for us to think or concentrate. Now, within the context of communicating, we stop breathing when we lose our place, forget what we want to say, or when someone asks a tough question. That's why breathing is especially important when you're listening to a question.
I even advise people to write the word "breathe" on every page of their notes to give them reminders not to seize up. The reason we seize up, is that our body's experiencing the release of stress inducing hormones like cortisol, norepinephrine, and noradrenaline, released by what's known as the autonomic or involuntary nervous system. Juicing through your body, these hormones are headed straight for the central nervous system. The result, an increased heart rate, higher blood pressure, dilated pupils, decreased saliva in our mouth, we sweat, and of course, we deprive ourselves of oxygen.
Then what happens is we become disoriented, and experience the separation of cognitive functioning and verbal skills, that's where the brain and the tongue part company. We need to breathe because in that anxious moment, we're standing on the precipice of fight or flight. Do I stay here and keep talking? Do I freeze, or do I run? Those are the choices we have when fight or flight happens. Well, we know we don't want to freeze. We know we can't run, as much as we would like to, so the only choice left is to stay and keep talking, and in that moment in time, we guard ourselves for survival.
We say to ourselves, "Please don't let me screw up, "please don't let me screw up," and our sole objective in that instant is to get out of there unscathed, in one piece, while we continue to hold our breath or barely breathe at all. All the while, our heart is beating like a jackrabbit, and our brain is running on fumes. Knowing how to properly breathe helps us. Learning to breathe properly helps soothe the autonomic nervous system. Ujjayi breath is diaphragmatic breathing.
The oxygen we take in first fills the lower part of our belly, and then rises up through the chest. Increasing the amount of oxygen we take in helps build internal body heat, and what that does is naturally relax the sympathetic portion of the autonomic nervous system, that's the part of our nervous system that triggers panic. So here's how to stay calm and focused before and during a presentation, especially if you're experiencing anxiety. Pull your belly in slowly as you exhale through your nose.
Then, as you inhale, relax your belly muscle, all the while, do not move your chest. Breathe out, belly in, breathe in, belly out, nice and slow. Breathe in, belly out, breathe out, belly in. Make every breath last three to five seconds. Breathe in, belly out, breath out, belly in. Use your nose; it warms and filters the air. Breathe in, belly out, breathe out, belly in.
Breathing this way helps you relax and think more clearly. Breathe in, belly out, breath out, belly in. Breathing this way actually puts pressure on the diaphragm, which in turn activates what's called the Vagus Nerve which produces the relaxation response. Remembering to breathe this way does require discipline. After all, we're reversing a lifetime of habit, and it's not just a way to breathe to induce relaxation. It's a form of breathing that serves us well 24/7, especially those of us prone to anxiety.
- Organizing your thoughts
- Speaking slowly, naturally, and confidently
- Breathing properly
- Using your body to reinforce speech
- Managing facial expressions
- Handling nervousness
- Integrating voice modulation, eye contact, and hand gestures into a powerful and engaging communication style