Department of Health

Self-care stories: Controlled breathing

Listen to how Sharni used controlled breathing to manage feelings of anxiety after experiencing an incident of occupational violence and aggression in her health service.

Occupational violence and aggression post-incident support

  • 01 June 2018
  • Duration: 2:24
  • Size: 4.4 MB
  • I work in reception and a couple of weeks ago I had a patient come in and verbally abuse me. He said some really awful things in front of the whole waiting room, it got pretty out of hand, we had to call for assistance. I was really frightened. I thought he was going to physically assault me.

    After the incident, I started feeling really panicky. My heart would race, I'd feel shaky, like I couldn't breathe. It'd happen all of a sudden, even when I wasn't thinking about what happened at work. It was really getting me down, I felt scared even doing normal things like going shopping at the supermarket.

    A few years ago I had taken some beginner yoga classes, and I remembered learning about using my breath to help manage stress and anxiety. I had found it was really helpful back then. So I decided to start practising the breathing exercises again - once in the morning when I woke up and at night just before bed. I found it good to practise the exercises regularly, so whenever I was feeling on-edge I knew what to do to help calm myself down.

    The exercise is super simple, really, anyone can do it. Basically, I just try to make my out-breath longer than my in-breath. I practise doing 10 rounds of breathing like this:

    ........IN......two.....three.....OUT....two.....three.....four......IN......two...three.....OUT.....two....three.....four......and so on, at whatever pace suits you.

    When I was feeling panicky, I'd do exactly the same thing, just for as long as it took to feel calmer. Sometimes I also say to myself  relax on the out-breath. Although it might seem a bit strange, there is some science behind this technique. It really helped me after the incident.

Reviewed 29 November 2021

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