Read This With Calm Breath: Managing Stress at Work

By Deborah Rossouw

It is 6 a.m. and I am about to join a spin-bike class led by Colleen. She is a super-fit, veteran biker and fitness trainer; in her class you know you’re in the hands of a pro.

She begins with a sentence that sticks in my mind: ‘You want to approach this with calm breath.’

That unusual turn of phrase simultaneously captured my attention and invited me to establish and monitor my own pace during the spinning-class. (Smart thinking as the point is to be stretched, but not to the point of burnout.)

It also made me reflect on the notion of ‘spinning our wheels at work’— exerting immense effort and not getting anywhere. The notion of approaching work ‘with calm breath’ makes sense, especially as today’s workplace is characterized by the stress of multiple demands, a pervading sense of urgency and the need to deliver more with less.

Over the past decade, I’ve been astounded to hear how many people are either on sleeping tablets to deal with stress or anti-depressants to deal with depression.  Troublingly, the majority of employees dare not tell their managers or colleagues that they are on these medications for fear of the stigma attached to both. When people do not know of alternative options for supporting themselves at work, it’s not surprising that they resort to medication. In reality, medication only offers symptomatic relief, leaving the true causes unaddressed.

If your organization offers an EAP service, that is commendable. Stress and burnout are prevalent in many organizations and it’s due in part to a lack of skill in how to manage personal energy. Your responsibility as an HR professional is to know how to read the signs of stress and burnout in your clients and to refer them to the right resources.

It is equally important that you read the signs in yourself, and take the necessary actions to get past those difficult experiences, sooner rather than later. As an HR professional, it is all too easy to be there for everyone, but not be there for yourself; I speak from personal experience. It is one of the reasons I am an advocate of personal energy mastery.

In a recent conversation a friend shared how she was ‘spinning her wheels’ because she’d had mishandled an interaction with a new client. Her personal assistant offered a suggestion to step away and follow a simple breathing practice and technique to help her refocus and harness her energy. My friend’s stress levels were so sky high that she dismissed the suggestion and continued to allow her inner critic to command her attention. Metaphorically speaking, she was still sitting on the bike, out of breath, spinning her wheels and not making any headway.

An hour later, she took the advice of her assistant and began to manage her energy more effectively.

If I get stressed because of cascading deadlines, for example, I become less congruent. It reduces my capacity to participate fully and to make rational or wise decisions. In a situation like this, I follow a proven process to manage my personal energy so that I can respond to the situation ‘with calm breath.’

Have you experienced ‘spinning your wheels’ at work? What impact did that have on you and those around you?

All kinds of options are open to us. We gain much-needed clarity when we approach challenging moments ‘with calm breath’ instead of resorting to medication.

I’d like to suggest two possibilities. Firstly, ‘calm breath’ encourages you to be responsible for monitoring and managing your own personal energy and stress levels. This requires you to apply techniques and practices to respond resourcefully in times of stress by harnessing your mental, emotional and intuitive subtle energy.

Secondly, it invites you to get in touch with your inner core so you can relate thoughtfully and consciously with yourself first, and then with your colleagues and friends.

Speaking ‘with calm breath’ also enables you to convey what matters to you, with authenticity and self-control. It results in you speaking with a calm voice and calm demeanor—from being connected to your inner core.

It’s an intentional conversation, grounded in self-assuredness and balanced with curiosity.  And this is what creates the conditions for others to engage fully with you, to resolve issues and reach mutually agreeable outcomes – which are key to your role as an HR Professional. Speaking ‘with calm breath’

is a skill of personal energy mastery.

Deborah Rossouw is speaking at the HRMA Conference + Tradeshow 2013 in Vancouver. Her  session, Personal Energy Management for Wellbeing in the Workplace is on Thursday, May 2.

Energy Catalyst, Deborah Rossouw ( is a certified Integral Coach and motivational teacher. She helps professionals align their energy and harness their emotions to be more energized, aligned and empowered at work and home.


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  1. I love the notion of “calm breath”. Our breath affects our whole bodies, how we hold ourselves and how we feel and respond to different situations. It’s ongoing work for me to find my “calm breath” at various points in the day. Sometimes I find it only when I lie on the floor with my knees bent and my feet up on a chair and an eye sac over my eyes and allow myself to drop into the floor – a great way to reconnect with myself when I’ve been rushing around.

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