When we are stressed our natural response is to hold the breath. Our tendency is to lift the chest and reduce the length of our exhalation. This raises our heart rate and can make us appear lacking in confidence, unapproachable and sometimes aggressive. We either play small and take up less space - or we do the opposite, puffing the chest and chin out. Neither is optimal!

Have you ever noticed that you hold your breath in any of these situations.

  • When having a difficult conversation?
  • When speaking to your boss?
  • When the phone rings?
  • When you’re about to give a presentation?
  • When you know you are about to ask a question in a meeting?
  • When your turn to speak is looming ominously near?
  • When challenged?
  • When you feel judged?
  • When you’re feeling emotional or angry?

If you’ve answered ‘Yes’ to any of the above then your aim should be to bring your awareness to these situations and start to change the ‘doing’ so you can put yourself in a more resourceful state.

So how can you change your response?

  • First, exhale. Notice that when you’ve exhaled there is a moment, a beat, before your lungs naturally want to expand. Observe that moment. Don’t just ‘grab’ the next breath!
  • Let the stomach soften so the breath can drop down.
  • Then notice that your chest is no longer puffed out. Your chin isn’t jutting forward or tilted up and your eyes and belly are softer.
  • Be aware that your heart rate has slowed down and that you feel calmer. This transmits to the other person and helps open up dialogue.

On a practical note:

  • Avoid tight clothing and belts that dig into the waist or belly.
  • Avoid tight collars and ties. You should be able to fit 2 fingers in between the collar and clavicle.
  • Avoid high heels as they will tighten the abdominals and glutes and restrict diaphragmatic breathing. If you need to wear heels alternate them with flatter shoes so your abs, glutes and thighs don’t become too tense.
  • Avoid overly tight underwear as this will also restrict your breathing.
  • Go for a walk on uneven ground - parks/grass/trail. This will help you to engage your core muscles and help you breathe more deeply.
  • Listen! Avoid the tendency to jump in. Allow others to complete their sentences and remember to breathe while they’re speaking.
  • Continue breathing when the other person is arguing or being very vocal.

Sheelagh offers one-to-one coaching which can address your general issues of communication or focus around a particular aspect of personal presence or an upcoming communication challenge. To find out more about our coaching visit our One-to-One Coaching page.