Get Ahead

3 office-friendly breathing exercises that can help you combat stress at work

Zhalisa "Zee" Clarke, Mindfulness and Breathwork Coach
Reclaiming Flow

Professionals deal with work stress in many different ways, from morning walks to motivational mantras. But many people don't know that breathing exercises can also help regulate stress, release anger and reduce anxiety. And according to Zee Clarke, author of Black People Breathe and mindfulness & breathwork expert for BIPOC communities, they can also help professionals mitigate workplace burnout.

Three out of 10 U.S. employees say they're burned out "very often" or "always," according to a recent report from Gallup. What's more, employees who felt discrimination were more than twice as likely to report high levels of burnout, showing that access to DEI programs is essential to workplace well-being.

By practicing breathwork, burnout can be directly addressed through relaxation responses in the body that help strengthen the body and mind, according to a 2017 study from Frontiers in Psychology

Here are three breathing exercises Clarke recommends for professionals battling burnout — they can all be done from your desk:

Squeeze and Release

We all store tension in different parts of our bodies as a response to external stressors. According to Clarke, the squeeze and release technique is great for lessening that tension and releasing anger. 

"You inhale through your nose, and then you squeeze everything," Clarke tells CNBC Make It. "You make fists, you curl your toes, you squeeze your leg muscles, you squeeze mostly everything for three, two, one, and then exhale it all out and release."

This stress release practice takes less than a minute to do and helps combat anxiety. However, if tensing all your muscles at once feels painful or uncomfortable, you can opt to squeeze one muscle at a time and repeat the exercise as needed. 

4-7-8 Breathing

According to Healthline, 4-7-8 breathing helps bring the body back into balance and regulate the fight-or-flight response we feel when we're stressed.

"Anxiety can be very debilitating," says Clarke. "4-7-8 breathing, which is when you inhale for a count of four, you hold for a count of seven, and you exhale for a count of 8, is amazing for anxiety and insomnia." 

Clarke recommends this technique for professionals who often find themselves tired after dealing with scenarios like "doing [a lot of] extra work, doing two or three jobs, or having to code switch."

Bellows Breath

If you often find yourself exhausted from the workday, this exercise is for you.

"I think it's better than coffee," Clarke says. "It's better than an espresso midday."

"You sit up straight, take loose fists at your shoulders, and inhale and exhale through your nose. As you inhale, you shoot your arms up and as you exhale, bring your arms down," Clarke explains in a video demonstrating the exercise. 

After repeating this technique a couple of times, Clarke says you're sure to feel refreshed and energized.

Check out:

Despite $1B in ticket sales, some Indigenous people take issue with 'Avatar 2'—here's why 

39-year-old self-made millionaire: 'Success isn't owned, it's rented. And rent is due every day'

How this 31-year-old tech worker built a community to help her peers bounce back from layoffs

Sign up now: Get smarter about your money and career with our weekly newsletter

What a brain expert eats in a day to boost memory and stay sharp
What a brain expert eats in a day to boost memory and stay sharp