Nurses are accustomed to checking their patients’ breathing, but they probably don’t pay much attention to their own. Although it’s easy to not give the way you breathe any thought, deep breathing can help lower stress levels and physical tension in anxious, overworked nurses who are dealing with their regular duties as well as concerns about COVID-19.
Why it’s important
Breathing deeply and mindfully sends a message to your brain to relax, and this message is then passed along to your body, according to the University of Michigan. It can help relieve anxiety as well as physical symptoms, including an increased heart rate, an increased breathing rate and high blood pressure. Breathing exercises don’t require much time, and if they can relax your mind and body, they can also help you provide even better patient care.
They have the added advantage of requiring no special equipment. Breathing techniques can be performed virtually anywhere, and nurses can choose from among several different types to see what they’re more comfortable with.
A breathing routine doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective. Toni Scott, a yoga instructor who is a former pediatric nurse, told nursing.com that she began stretching and breathing mindfully to handle the stress of her job.
She’d go to the small room where urine dipstick tests were done to pause and mentally scan her body for signs of tension. She would then stand up tall, bring her shoulders back and down and then inhale and exhale deeply through her nose. After a few deep breaths, she would bend forward at the hips and slowly stand upright before taking a few more deep breaths.
RN Bonnie Berk recommends pause breathing, which she described to nursing.com with the following steps:
- Inhale as if you’re filling up your torso like a balloon.
- Pause to notice how you’re feeling.
- Exhale as you pull your abdomen toward your spine, pausing again.
- Perform this about seven times to increase your mental clarity and lower your heart rate.
Counted deep breathing
The Cleveland Clinic recommends the following breathing technique for nurses, which it says can even be performed on your way to or from work:
- Inhale on a count of four.
- Exhale on a count of six.
- Repeat five times when you need to relax.
Alternate nostril breathing
Dailynurse.com suggests the following yoga breathing technique, which it describes as “a caffeine boost minus the caffeine.” It may look a little odd, so you may want to try this one in private:
- Use your thumb to press your right nostril closed.
- Inhale deeply through your left nostril.
- When your lungs are filled with air, use your ring finger to close your left nostril.
- Exhale through your right nostril.
- Continue this pattern for about 30 seconds.
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