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How to calm down in real time

Thudding chest, racing-mind, glistening palms, there's an undeniable link between body and mind when we're in the heat of the moment.


A tense board meeting, tricky client call, awkward colleague review, or just contending with a dodgy Wi-Fi connection. No matter how well prepared we are, being in a position of leadership inevitably brings with it challenging times.

But what if we could harness the power of our body to better cope with these situations? What if when the stress or anxiety hits, we could calm ourselves in real-time?

The wonder of human biology

We are the only animals who can truly influence our breathing. Our brain, heart rate and breathing are all connected, and we can essentially hack our nervous system to quickly de-stress or to increase energy and alertness.

So how can we learn to control our fight or flight instincts? Neuroscientist Andrew D. Huberman has some great insight on harnessing the power of your breathing to get calm – or pumped – in real time:

  • When we inhale our diaphragm moves down. This creates more space in our thoracic cavity, our heart actually gets a little bit bigger and the rate of blood flow through that larger heart volume slows down. Our brains response by sending a signal to speed the heart up.
  • The opposite is true as well. When we exhale our diaphragm moves up, our heart gets a little bit smaller and blood flows more quickly through that smaller volume. Our brain sends a signal to slow the heart down.
  • Inhaling speeds our heart rate up, exhaling slows it down. So to speed up our heart rate and be more alert, inhale more or make those inhales more vigorous, more intense.
  • To calm down we need to make our exhales slightly longer than our inhales or making them more vigorous.
  • So we can get more control of our responses in situations just by focusing on our breathing. It’s a real time way to ready ourselves for the challenge ahead.


Why it matters

We can’t avoid tough situations, but if we stay in a constant fight or flight mode our wellbeing can start to suffer. It can affect our physical health and immune response, and contribute to stress, anxiety, and depression.

Learning to harness the power of breath to find calm in real time is one way we can shift from this state of high alert. Allowing us in the moment to make better, more considered decisions and in the long-term put us on the path to better health.