Fortunately, it's not all doom and gloom. With some practice, we can develop new breathing habits that support managing our stress levels and look after our physical and mental well-being.

Here are three poor breathing practices with practical steps to overcoming them.

Have You Heard About Email Apnea or Screen Apnea?

Writer and consultant Linda Stone coined "email apnea" or "screen apnea." It refers to shallow breath or the temporary cessation of breath while spending time in front of a screen.

Screen time is not only limited to professional work but also extends to our other sedentary lifestyle choices: TV, gaming, or using social media.

This shortness of breath is directly linked to your "fight or flight" response in the central nervous system. The hypothalamus triggers your body's stress hormones, known as cortisol and adrenaline.

The outcome of this physiological response is an elevated heart rate, increased stress and reduced oxygen intake, and a cascade of physiological effects which impact our overall health and well-being in the long run.

So, what can we do about this?

There are multiple things you can do to prevent email apnea from happening. First of all, scan your posture while seated to ensure your back is straight and your abdomen moves freely. A slumped spine impairs our ability to fully breathe. Thus, our oxygen intakes go down, and our muscle tension increases.

Another tip to reduce screen apnea is to bring your attention back to breathing when you feel like it's getting too much. Some breathing practices can help do that and combat the adverse effects of inefficient breathing habits.

A study by David Spiegel, MD, from Stanford Medicine, and neurobiologist Andrew Huberman, PhD, introduces a breathing practice called cyclic sighing. It has proved to be more effective in reducing stress and anxiety than other meditation and breathing techniques.

Otherwise known as the "physiological sigh" or "double inhale," this breathing technique directly aids in stress relief and mood regulation.

  • Take in a deep breath through the nose, followed by another even deeper breath.
  • Exhale all the air through the mouth, slowly and passively.

This breathing technique lowers your heart and respiration rate, sending you out of that state of "fight or flight."

So, next time you're frantically responding to emails, stressing about a deadline, and you notice a shortness of breath, remember to practice cyclic sighing and see how your mood changes for the better.


Did You Know That Mouth Breathing is Detrimental To Your Health?

Mouth breathing is another poor breathing pattern that affects individuals daily.

It is a mode of breathing that favors the oral passage for oxygen intake rather than the nasal passage.

According to Dr. Alan Ruth, a Behavioral Medicine Practitioner, 30 to 50 percent of adults breathe through their mouth. However, breathing through your nose enables the body to use the oxygen you inhale more effectively. It is considered to be significantly more beneficial than breathing through the mouth.

While humans are perfectly capable of breathing orally, the primary functions of the mouth are eating, drinking, and communication. Although mouth breathing may be necessary in cases of severe congestion and structural complications in the nasal cavity and jaw, forming a mouth-breathing habit can be detrimental to your overall well-being.

Breathing through the mouth on a prolonged basis may lead to medical issues such as:

  • Halitosis (bad breath),
  • Gum disease
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Issues such as snoring and irritability.
  • Impaired immune function
  • Agitated sleep
  • Chronic stress

On the other hand, nose breathing filters out foreign particles, humidifies inhaled air, and produces nitric oxide, a beneficial gas that acts as a vasodilator and bronchodilator and increases oxygen transport throughout the body.

Beating this bad habit is possible, considering that you aren't severely congested or medically unable to use your nasal cavity.

Dr. Alan Ruth argues that individuals facing chronic mouth breathing can change this habit through the process of 'resonance breathing.' This breathing practice has long-term benefits such as resilience to stress, improved sleep, heightened focus and productivity, emotional stability, and less anxiety.

It is easy and safe to do, here's how:

  • First, find a comfortable space to sit or even lie down if you prefer.
  • Shut your eyes and focus on your breathing for a moment.
  • Inhale deeply through your nose, and exhale out the mouth; take it slow; don't rush.
  • Aim for between 4.5 and 7 breaths per minute.

Resonance breathing can be practiced using symmetrical breathing, where you inhale and exhale for the same amount of time, or natural breathing, where inhaling is slightly shorter than exhaling. Download the Oxa app to guide you through these new breathing techniques.

Let's Quit the Habit of Shallow Chest Breathing

Sounds counterintuitive, but chest breathing is very shallow and isn't the right way to breathe.

People who work stressful jobs or lead a fast-paced lifestyle often develop this "paradoxical" breathing that functions differently from proper diaphragmatic breathing. It disrupts the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body and can further increase physical symptoms of stress and anxiety. It also affects muscle posturing, which may lead to neck pains and headaches.

Perform this one-minute assessment to test whether you are breathing through your diaphragm, not your chest:

  1. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
  2. Breathe in and out three times and see which of your hands is moving.
  3. Did your hand on the chest move? Then, you do not breathe correctly.

Both of the above techniques – cyclic sighing and resonance breathing— will be useful in promoting more controlled and natural diaphragmatic breathing. Yet, belly breathing is the most efficient and relaxed way of getting enough air into your lungs.

It automatically slows your heart rate, helping you to relax and calm down. For more guidance on how to practice these breathing exercises, the Oxa app is your breathwork instructor for practicing proper breathing.

Taking the responsibility to learn and practice proper breathing habits and break bad ones is not only a way of managing stress but also an investment in your physical health and mental wellness.


Q: Why do I experience shortness of breath in stressful work situations?

The shortness of breath, or rather, shallow breath, that you experience during stressful work situations results from your central nervous system sending your body into "fight or flight" mode. Shallow or chest breathing is a result of the triggering of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.

Q: How can I manage my stress at work?

You can manage your stress by practicing breathing exercises that promote oxygen inhalation via the nasal cavity, thus triggering a more relaxed state in your physiology. Resonance breathing, cyclic sighing, and belly breathing have been proven particularly effective when practiced through your nose.

Q: What is diaphragmatic breathing?

Diaphragmatic breathing practices, known as belly breathing, aim to increase oxygen intake during heightened stress. This type of breathing also supports our digestive, vascular, and lymphatic systems.

Q: What is the difference between shallow and deep breathing?

Shallow breathing involves short breaths that primarily engage the chest, leading to minimal lung expansion and reduced oxygen intake. In contrast, deep breathing, also known as diaphragmatic or belly breathing, involves full lung expansion, engaging the diaphragm and abdomen, and allows for maximum oxygen intake. It is more efficient, promotes relaxation, and supports optimal body function.

Q: What are the side effects of shallow breathing?

Shallow breathing can lead to a range of physical and psychological side effects due to inadequate oxygen supply and inefficient removal of carbon dioxide. Physically, it can cause dizziness, fatigue, increased heart rate, and muscle tension. Psychologically, it can contribute to heightened stress, anxiety, and panic. Over time, persistent shallow breathing can lead to a decreased tolerance for exercise and decreased overall well-being and higher risk of certain medical conditions.

Stéphane Janssoone
May 28, 2024

A former elite triathlete, now a competitive freediver, MBTI I & 2, Certified Wim Hof, and Oxygen Advantage Instructor, epitomizes mastery in breathwork and personal development. As the founder of the Breathing Academy and Oxa Life’s Breathing Advisor, his transformative breath-based techniques profoundly impact individuals’ health and performance through an innovative and holistic approach.

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