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Breathing techniques

Breathing techniques and exercises are a great way to reduce stress in the moment. Try one of the following exercises and see which one works for you.

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A simple pause

  1. Stop whatever you are doing right now
  2. Turn away from distractions such as your laptop/tablet/mobile phone
  3. Put a hand gently on your belly
  4. Take a big breath in, breathing right from the base of your belly
  5. Don’t force the breath out
  6. Let the breath naturally leave the body
  7. Notice how that feels – is the breath ragged? Is it smooth? Did it come easily from the belly or was it hard to breathe that deeply?
  8. Take 3 more breaths in this way
  9. Notice how you feel now

The seven-eleven breathing exercise

This is a simple and effective one for anxious moments

  1. breathe in for a count of seven
  2. breathe out for a count of eleven

Breaths need to be deep and from the diaphragm or belly area. When we are anxious and in a state of high mental and physical arousal, we breathe from the chest and neck area, quick shallow breaths.

Healthy distraction

1. A mindful cup of tea / coffee. Slow down and be aware of all the movements and actions that go into this simple every day task. Filing the kettle, the sound of the water from the tap, the ‘click’ of the on switch, the gradual increase in noise of the heating element warming the water. Watch the steam as it leaves the kettle. Notice the feel of the mug in your hands, is there a pattern on the mug or is it a solid colour? Feel the weight of the kettle in your hand. Watch the water as it pours out onto the tea bag, tea leaves or coffee grounds. Pay attention to the aroma of the tea or coffee as it reaches your nostrils. If you take milk become aware of the colour and smell of the liquid as it leaves the container and splashes onto the hot drink. Sit down for a few minutes and really engage in the taste of your drink. Every time your mind wanders away with busy or negative ‘self-talk’, gently guide it back to the enjoyment of your tea/coffee. Resist the temptation to do anything else whilst you fully engage in drinking your beverage. Notice how that feels for you.

2. Take a short walk. If you can, go outside. Walk around the block or if possible to a local green space. Just 5 minutes outside in the fresh air can bring worries sharply into perspective. If you can’t get outdoors, can you walk to another part of the building? Changing scenery helps break the unhelpful stress response of ‘fight, flight, freeze’. Movement can aid creativity and is known to shift ‘writers block’ and other moments of ‘freeze’.

Movement

Be gentle, mindful and slow with all your movements, particularly around the neck and back areas.

  1. Stretch. Moving your arms above your head, stretching the muscles out in your legs. If you have been sitting for a long period researching for a case or preparing your papers on your laptop, chances are your muscles are locked and tense. Notice how it feels to gently roll your shoulders forwards and backwards. Loosen the muscles in your hands by tensing and relaxing them, making fists and then stretching them as wide as possible.
  2. Neck rolls. Sitting straight in your chair. Become aware of your shoulders and let them relax down. Noticing the weight of your head, gently lower your chin towards your chest. Sit with this gentle stretch for a few moments. Notice the physical sensations in the back of your neck. The movement is not a big one, it is small and slow. Gently raise your head back to the central resting position. Now gently allow your right ear to move towards your right shoulder. Again, the movement is not rushed and will be small. Notice how the left side of your neck opens up a little. Slowly raise your head to the central resting position. Now carefully allow your left ear to move towards your left shoulder. Become aware of whether the tension is different in this right side of your neck than the left side you have just stretched. No need to judge that difference as being right or wrong, simply be aware of how it feels. Slowly return your neck to the central resting position. You may like to repeat this movement a few times. What do you notice (if anything) one the second or third repetition? Do not attempt to move your neck backwards in this sequence.

Three-minute breathing space

You can do this exercise sitting or standing. It can even be done on a busy commute if you are feeling over loaded. You may want to practice a few times when you are feeling less anxious so you have it ready to use when the need arises.

Step 1 – Awareness

  • Adopt an erect and dignified posture. If possible, close your eyes or gently lower your gaze cutting out other distractions.
  • Become aware of your breath moving in an out of your body. Notice if your breath is smooth or perhaps something else. Ask yourself “what is my experience right now?”
  • Become aware of the thoughts passing through your mind. They may be jumbled and moving at speed. As best as you can, acknowledge these thoughts only as mental events.
  • Thoughts are not facts.
  • What feelings are you noticing? Turn towards any discomfort or unpleasant feelings. Acknowledge them without trying to make them different to how you find them. Let them be.
  • What physical sensations do you notice right now? Again, try not to judge or change them. Simply be aware of their presence in this moment.

Step 2 – Gathering and focusing attention

  • Redirect your attention now to ‘spotlight’ on the physical sensations of the breath.
  • Notice how your abdomen expands and falls with each in-breath and each exhalation
  • Follow the breath all the way in and all the way out
  • Use each breath to anchor yourself in the present
  • When your mind wanders (that is what minds do!) gently escort it back to the breath.

Step 3 – Expanding attention

  • Now expand your field of awareness to include the body as a whole, as if the whole of your body is breathing
  • Include your posture and facial expression
  • You may notice sensations of discomfort in the body. Use this as an opportunity to ‘breathe into’ the area, exploring the sensation rather than trying to change it in any way
  • Now become aware of the ground beneath your feet or the chair beneath your legs. Notice the space you take up in the room you are in.
  • Slowly open your eyes or raise your gaze.

The information and resource packs on this website are designed to help you and your colleagues to work as a community for better wellbeing and professional resilience. If you want to provide feedback on these resources, or to get involved in promoting wellbeing please get in touch.


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