B is for breathe

Low, full breaths can help us regain a sense of calm and focus in our most stressful moments.

“But I can’t just call timeout in the middle of a stressful interview and take a couple minutes to close my eyes, make sure I’m breathing right, and get my focus back.”

Last Wednesday, I was teaching stress-reduction techniques to a seminar full of job seekers.  We were focusing on what for most of us is the most stress-inducing piece of the puzzle—the interview.  (I’ll tell you how I handled that question in a moment.)

In addition to my traditional business experience, I spent many years in “the theater.”  I was once asked, “From your actor’s perspective, what’s the most important bit of advice you would give us to help us perform at our best during an interview?”

I said one word.  “Breathe.”

Our brains and bodies need a steady supply of oxygen to keep us at our communicative, creative, and engaging best.

You’ve probably experienced it.   You’re in an interview and you begin to lose focus.  Or your muscles clench and tension or pain spreads throughout your body.  You may even have an out-of-body experience—the one where you’re gazing down on someone who looks like you, and you notice words coming out of your mouth, but feel totally detached from the person who’s speaking them!

Why is this happening?  Nervousness, usually.  Anxiety causes our bodies to tense.  Meanwhile, we forget to breathe.  Some of us hyperventilate.

A deep, low, full breath—even stealing just one—can bring us from scattered to focused; from tense to relaxed; from nervous to calm.

My vocal training led me to be an advocate of these low breaths.  They look like the breaths babies take early in life–deep and low.  It’s hypnotic to watch their bellies rise and fall.  But any full, focused breath will help.  A yoga class can be a big help in this regard.

Proper breathing is so vital, I tell my clients to write a discreet little “B” at the top of the legal pad they bring into the interview as a reminder.  You can apply this practice to any presentation you’re giving.  Breathing fully will help keep your voice from wearing out, too.

So back to the class.  They needed to feel the power of the breath, and quickly.

“Turn to a partner,” I said, “and tell them about some terrible traffic you’ve experienced recently.  And talk over each other.  And make it loud!”

The stress level in the room reached a fever pitch.  “Now STOP!”  Silence.  “Take one full low breath.”  They did.  “How do you feel?”

“Calm.”  “Back to my baseline.”  “Centered.”   All from one breath.

“So can you take a breath in the middle of an interview to get you back to where you want to be, so you can perform at your best?”

“YES,” they replied.  “And if it’s nice and low,”  said Michelle, “they won’t even see me doing it!”

Please share your ideas and experiences below.