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How to Shift from Work Stress to Calm in 3 Seconds Flat

shift from work stress to calmWhen you’re on the treadmill of workplace stress, it’s hard to stop the cycle of escalation. With deadlines to meet and demanding bosses to appease, nothing you do seems good enough. It would be better if you didn’t work in that toxic job, but there’s always the specter of economic uncertainty haunting you, as well as the prospect of a long wait between jobs.

When you’re stuck in a difficult place, the best resource you have is to harness your creativity to come up with a genius exit plan. For that you need a calm, clear mind. Enter the simple and easy three-second breathing technique to go from stressed to calm.

When you get anxious, the central physiological response is one of over-breathing; which in turn increases oxygen levels in the brain. This over-breathing causes unpleasant physical sensations such as rapid heart rate and sweating.

In order to balance the oxygen levels in your brain and stop the anxiety from escalating, it’s essential to slow your breathing. This can be done successfully by following these four simple steps:

  1. Use the second hand of your watch to count to three seconds. Notice how long three seconds actually lasts. If you don’t have a second hand on your watch, simply count: “one thousand, two thousand, three thousand.”
  2. While looking at your watch, breathe in for a count of three seconds.
  3. Then breathe out for a count of three seconds.
  4. Repeat this slow breathing for two minutes. Excuse yourself to visit the bathroom to practice this exercise if necessary.

By now, your breathing will have slowed and the oxygen levels in your brain will have been balanced.

Some important notes about this breathing technique: As with any new skill you acquire, practice makes perfect. Although this technique seems simple, you must practice it at times when you are not feeling anxious. In this way, it will be easier for you to do when you really need it to reduce your anxiety. Try practicing this technique two to three times a day over the next week.

Some breathing techniques involve complicated routines of breathing in the abdomen, stomach or lungs with varying times for each breath. Complications aren’t required in this breathing exercise. Just do whatever feels comfortable and right for you.

This breathing technique seems so simple, you could believe it won’t work, which isn’t the case. It’s taught at Sydney’s St. Vincent’s Hospital, one of the most prestigious anxiety clinics in Australia, because of its proven track record in reducing anxiety.

If you need a bit of extra help in calming your mind and enhancing your creativity, I recommend these five apps that I use myself on an almost daily basis. One of these apps gives you heaps more exercises to calm your mind, and another can help to shift your mood instantly. The other three are essential to nurture your creativity — and two of them are free.


How to Shift from Work Stress to Calm in 3 Seconds Flat

Sophie Henshaw, DPsych

Dr. Sophie Henshaw is a clinical psychologist in private practice with over 20 years' experience. She loves helping mid-career women who long to get away from hostile workplaces and bad bosses. She believes with a little imagination, escape into a free-spirited life is possible. Dr. Sophie is the author of two books: "Stressed, Depressed And Dreading Mondays" and "What Every Target Of Workplace Bullying Needs To Know." She's appeared on Channel 10, 6PR, HuffPost Live, PsychCentral, Women's Agenda, NineMSN Health, Rebelle Society and Witch. She's a regular Huffington Post contributor (under her pen name). For more, visit:

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APA Reference
Henshaw, S. (2018). How to Shift from Work Stress to Calm in 3 Seconds Flat. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 27 Jul 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.