Summary: Many of us struggle with managing our emotions in the workplace and find ourselves behaving in ways that don't serve our goals or self-image. How can we stay calm, expand our capacity, and show up the way we want? Neurobiological research proves that mindfulness and breathwork are essential tools that can help us adjust our internal state to show up better outwardly. With the simple STOP method, you can start accessing the benefits of breathwork to take the driver's seat of your emotions.
“How can I show up the way I really want to?”
If you’ve found yourself asking this same question, know that you’re not alone. Being mindful of the way we show up is at the heart of so many of the questions I frequently hear, like:
- “After two years I’m still in back-to-back zoom meetings all day. How do I cope?”
- “I have a difficult co-worker who triggers me. What can I do?”
- “When I present at important meetings, I never show up the way I intend.”
We’ve all done it; walked away from a scenario where we feel like we didn’t show up as the best version of ourselves. We didn’t perform our best. Afterwards, we run through the list of things we know we could have done better, think of all the things we could have said or should have said, or perhaps we wish we could have just kept our cool.
The last two years have been especially difficult, leaving many of us feeling stressed, drained and working with shorter fuses. We’ve all been through a lot and this is something we all deeply understand, but ruminating over how a meeting went or having a negative reaction to someone we work with just doesn’t feel good.
No matter the situation, whether in back-to-back virtual meetings from home, returning to the office in a new hybrid model or in-person full time, we all want to put our best self forward.
Why don’t I show up the way I want?
First, let’s address the why. It’s our sympathetic nervous system that creates the physiological response to stress – think fight or flight. We’ve all felt this – our heart starts pounding, we start breathing quickly, our pupils dilate & pain receptors are dulled – we’re on edge & tense. The thing is, our body doesn’t know if we’re walking into an important meeting or if we’re about to fight a tiger for our life.
When our sympathetic nervous system is heightened, our capacity is limited; think tunnel vision instead of being able to see the full picture. With this narrowed point of view, we’re unable to show up fully as our best selves because we simply don’t have access to our full range of skills. We’re reacting.
What is capacity?
Between stimulus and response, there’s a space – and it’s in that space where our power to choose our response lies. This is our capacity.
The more limited our capacity is, the less able we are to intentionally choose the way we respond. Instead, we experience being triggered, reactive and stressed. Operating with this limited capacity can also cause us to lose focus and experience anxiety. When we’re operating with limited capacity, our emotional labour increases, which can lead to burnout.
The greater our capacity is, the more empowered we are to choose the way we respond, maintaining access to our full range of skills. We can handle that difficult coworker or stressful presentation in a way more in line with the way we really want. Capacity allows us to align our actions with our intentions, not reactions.
A dysregulated sympathetic nervous system can look like:
- Involuntary mental chatter
- Rumination, feeling overwhelmed
- Irregular and shallow breathing patterns
- Strong need to control self, environment and others yet feeling powerless
- Contraction, tension and pain in the body
- Difficulty regulating emotions; fear, love, joy and anger
- Disconnect from the reality of bodily experiences
If you’re experiencing symptoms of a dysregulated sympathetic nervous system during an average workday, mindfulness and breathwork can help.
The breathwork buzz
You’ve probably noticed that there’s been a lot of buzz about mindfulness and breathwork lately, and there’s a good reason for this. Research grounded in neurobiological data has proven that regular breathwork practice is an effective tool to expand our capacity, increase focus and memory, improve cognition and enhance neuroplasticity.
How we breathe, how often we breathe, the depth of our breathing, and our ratio of inhales to exhales actually predict how focused we are, how easily we can enter and exit from sleep, and influences all aspects of our mental and physical life.
A breathwork practice can also be leveraged as a real-time tool to bias the brain to remain calm, present and mindful. When we adjust our breathing, we can adjust our internal state.
Breathwork also helps us disengage from stressful moments in our workday. Taking a few minutes to reset, slow down and breathe helps us set the stage to show up the way we intend.
When we become attuned to the sympathetic nervous system response, we’re able to remind our brain we’re on a zoom call, not being stalked by that tiger.
The STOP method
We are all familiar with breath and understand how essential breathing is to life, and we know there’s a reciprocal relationship between the state of our brain, our emotions and our breath. Breathwork is a fundamental tool for being mindful, expanding our capacity and being present.
The stop method is an accessible way to learn to pause and familiarize yourself with the value of simply taking a moment to check in with yourself, body and mind. It’s also an easy way to begin incorporating a regular breathwork practice into your day. This method is an opportunity to experience the payoff of showing up the way you intend.
This method is simple, and can be done just about anywhere and in any place. You can do it with eyes open, or closed, from a comfortable seated position.
Use the STOP Acronym
- Take 5 deep breaths
S – Stop what you’re doing
Learn the benefit of taking a pause. You can set a daily reminder at a time of day when you typically feel most stressed. Set a reminder in your calendar 5 minutes before the big meeting or before your next presentation, or use this as a tool on demand when you’re feeling triggered. Simply take a moment, whether you plan to do it or just take the moment when you need to. Turn off your notifications and just stop.
T – Take 5 breaths
First, observe your natural breath as it is in this moment. How is your breath impacted by your emotions? What are you feeling in your body? What is your state of mind? When you’re ready, take 5 full breaths. Sometimes it takes us a few breaths to get into a rhythm. Slow down your inhale, then slow down your exhale to match.
O – Observe
Observe how you feel now, after taking 5 full breaths. Do you feel different than before? How has your presence changed? What do you feel in your body? What is your state of mind?
P – Proceed
Use the information gained from your experience to mindfully proceed.
Find your cadence.
We all want to show up as the best version of ourselves. By embracing a mindfulness and breathwork practice, we can remind ourselves to pause, check-in, and move on with an empowered calm presence.
The STOP method can be used both in regular daily practice and leveraged as a real-time tool on demand. With the four simple steps of STOP, we can bias our brain to remain calm with full access to our rational thought – no matter the situation.
There are many forms of mindfulness and breathwork that can help expand your capacity, with the STOP method being a great place to start. Whether you use breathwork as a rescue remedy to adapt your presence when your emotions are heightened, or as a tool to “put your oxygen mask on first,” I encourage you to explore incorporating mindfulness and breathwork practice into your daily life. Regular practice will help you find your cadence as an intentional leader, so you can show up the way you really want.