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Jennifer Benz September 17, 2019 5 min read

8 Breathing Exercises to Relieve Stress During Annual Enrollment

Needless to say, open enrollment is a stressful time. When you’re feeling bogged down or frantic about getting those communications out to your people on time, take a moment to breathe.

We start all our weekly team meetings with a couple minutes of breathing. Just a few moments of breathing intentionally is a good midday reset. It gives everyone a chance to clear their minds of email and daily tasks, so they can be present for the meeting.

Here are our 8 favorite breathing techniques that help us get through open enrollment. They are easy to do. Whether you’re into meditating or not, a few moments of quiet and a few deep breaths can make a world of difference in your mood. Give them a shot!

Breath Counting

What this does: Pulls the mind away from distractions and toward simple, centering presence

  1. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight. Gently close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths. Then, let your breath come naturally without trying to influence it.
  2. To begin the exercise, count 1 to yourself as you exhale.
  3. The next time you exhale, count to 2, and so on, up to 5.
  4. Then, begin a new cycle, counting 1 on the next exhalation.
  5. Never count higher than 5, and count only when you exhale. You will know your attention has wandered when you find yourself up to 8, 12, or even 19.

Calming Breath

What this does: Calms the nervous system and the overworked mind

  1. To begin, sit still and tall somewhere comfortable. Close your eyes, and begin breathing through your nose.
  2. Then, inhale for a count of 2. Hold your breath in for a count of 1. Then exhale gently, counting out 4, and finish by holding the breath for a count of 1. Keep your breathing even and smooth.
  3. If the 2-4 count feels too short, try increasing your breath counts to 4 in and 6 out, or 6 in and 8 out, and so on. But if longer breaths create any anxiety, there is no need to push yourself. The most important thing is that the exhale is longer than the inhale.

Alternative Nostril Breathing

What this does: Increases the amount of oxygen taken into the body using a relaxing, balancing breath

  1. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight. Empty all the air from your lungs.
  2. Using the thumb of your right hand, block your right nostril, and inhale through your left nostril only. Be sure to inhale into your belly, not your chest.
  3. Once you are full of breath, seal your left nostril with the ring finger of the same hand, keeping your right nostril closed, and hold the breath for a moment. Then, release your thumb, and exhale through your right nostril only. Be sure to exhale all your breath out of the right side, and pause before inhaling again through the same side. Seal both nostrils once you’ve inhaled on the right side and exhaled through the left side.
  4. A complete cycle of breath includes an inhalation and exhalation through both nostrils. If you’re just starting out, you can do a 4-count inhale, holding your breath for 4 to 8 counts, then exhaling for 4 counts. You may feel more relaxed and calm in both your mind and body.

1-Minute Oxygen Boost

What this does: Calms you if you’re feeling frazzled or restless and/or want to boost productivity

  1. Inhale to the count of 2.
  2. Exhale to the count of 2.
  3. Inhale to the count of 2.
  4. Exhale to the count of 3.
  5. Inhale to the count of 2.
  6. Exhale to the count of 4.
  7. Inhale to the count of 2.
  8. Exhale to the count of 5.
  9. Repeat several times, then return to your normal breathing.

Body Scan

What this does: Gets you into your body and out of your head

  1. Sit comfortably.
  2. Begin focusing your attention on the sensations at the top of your head.
  3. Move your attention down your body, one part at a time, and notice any feelings.
  4. Take a few deep breaths, and bring your attention back to the room as you open your eyes.

Deep Breathing Technique

What this does: Creates focus and stills the mind

  1. Breathe in, counting from 1 to 4, inflating first your belly, then your rib cage, then your lungs, chest, throat, and continuing all the way up to the crown of your head.
  2. Pause when you are at the top, full of breath. Hold your breath in for a count of 4.
  3. Begin to exhale, counting down from 4 to 1, first deflating your chest, then your rib cage, and then your belly.
  4. Pause when your breath is fully emptied, and hold your navel in, holding your breath for a count of 4.
  5. Repeat 5 rounds of breaths.

Inner Smile Meditation (short)

  1. Offer a smile to yourself.
  2. Both Buddhism and Taoism teach the Inner Smile Meditation. It involves closing your eyes and smiling as you would smile to another person. Smile lightly at your jaw while letting it relax. Direct your focus to your forehead. While it may feel a little silly, the more you practice, the more easily it will become a part of your routine.

Inner Smile Meditation (long)

  1. Smile into your whole body.
  2. Begin by generating a feeling of natural happiness as if it emanates from the backs of your eyes. If the feeling does not come immediately, remind yourself of any experience of natural joy—for example, the face of a joyous child.
  3. Once you generate the feeling of this smile, let it radiate down the backs of your eyes like a waterfall. Visualize this meditative stream flowing down your neck and shoulders, down the center of your spine, to your heart and lungs, and then into your stomach. Let it run down across your back and out into your legs and feet. You can repeat the sweep from the backs of your eyes to your feet, or do one long, slow sweep.

We wish you a calm and mindful open enrollment. For our best benefits communication tips to help you during this time of year, check out Our Best Advice: Tips, Tricks, and Resources You Can Apply This Enrollment.

Jennifer Benz

Jennifer Benz, SVP Communications Leader, has been on the leading edge of employee benefits for more than 20 years and is an influential voice in the employee benefits industry.