Breathe to Manage Stress During Organizational Change

by | Jun 10, 2024 | Change Management, Leadership, Management and Leadership, Mental Health, Psychological Safety, Workplace Culture | 0 comments

Practice techniques for mindful breathing and workplace harmony

In our latest episode of The Harmonious Workplaces Podcast, we delved into the topic of managing stress during organizational change. This discussion brought to mind a personal experience from my career. I recalled a situation where a marketing team member I managed expressed extreme fear of one of the VPs. This VP used coercion and the threat of disciplinary action as motivation to get a last-minute project completed. As a fellow executive, I intervened, negotiating a more realistic deadline and establishing guidelines for marketing requests among the executive team. Despite this, my team member remained on high alert and stressed, and I too felt the strain of confronting an executive known for ruling with a heavy hand.

In an attempt to mitigate our stress, I shared a breathing technique I learned from my therapist, similar to one discussed on the Mel Robbins podcast by a guest mental health expert (Robbins, 2023). By taking breaks, finding quiet spaces, and employing mindful breathing, we could reduce our stress, refocus, and produce the requested project with quality and pride.

Understanding Stress at Work: Bad Stress and Eustress

People commonly experience stress at work, but it can manifest differently. Bad stress, or distress, negatively impacts performance, health, and well-being. It can result from unrealistic deadlines, poor management practices, and a toxic work environment. On the other hand, eustress – a positive form of stress – can enhance performance and motivation (Conte & Landy, 2018). It occurs when workers perceive challenges as manageable. Overcoming such challenges as goals can lead to personal growth and job satisfaction.

Defining Organizational Change Management (OCM)

Organizational Change Management (OCM) refers to a structured approach to ensure workers integrate changes smoothly and successfully with lasting benefits. It involves managing the “people side” of change to achieve the required business outcomes. This includes preparing, supporting, and helping individuals and teams to adopt organizational changes.

Defining Organizational Development (OD)

Organizational Development (OD) is a field of research, theory, and practice dedicated to expanding the knowledge and effectiveness of people to accomplish more successful organizational change and performance. OD involves improving an organization’s capacity to handle its internal and external functioning and relationships. This includes improving processes, structures, and strategies within an organization.

Why Stress Occurs During OCM and OD

Stress often occurs during Organizational Change Management and Organizational Development due to uncertainty, fear of the unknown, leadership issues, communication struggles, and potential disruptions to established routines and practices. Employees may worry about job security, changes in responsibilities, and the impact on the quality of their wok and on their work-life balance. Additionally, the pressure to adapt quickly and effectively to new ways of working can contribute to elevated stress levels.

Using Mindful Breathing for Stress Management

Research supports the effectiveness of mindful breathing practices for reducing stress and anxiety (APA, n.d.). Techniques such as deep breathing, progressive relaxation, and mindfulness meditation can help individuals manage stress by promoting relaxation and focus. Managers can easily help implement these practices in the workplace, providing employees with tools to manage their stress levels during times of change.

For instance, Bentley et al. (2023) highlight the benefits of breathing practices in their systematic review, demonstrating how these techniques can reduce stress and anxiety. Similarly, Dwivedi et al. (2015) discuss a yoga intervention model for counterproductive work behavior, emphasizing the positive impact of mindful practices on workplace stress.

By incorporating mindful breathing techniques, employees can create a sense of calm and clarity, enabling them to navigate organizational changes more effectively. This approach not only supports individual well-being but also contributes to a more harmonious and productive workplace.

  1. Here we present a popular breathing technique, the 4, 7, 8 method:
  2. Remove yourself to the best of your ability from the source of the stress, preferably in a quiet area.
  3. Close your eyes or relax your eyelids and look out to the horizon without focusing on anything – gaze forward.
  4. Breathe in down into your belly, allowing your belly to expand as you breathe, and count to four in your head.
  5. Hold the breath in your belly until you count to seven.
  6. Slowly exhale completely for eight counts.
  7. Repeat this several times.

Workers must have methods to effectively manage stress during organizational change to maintain a healthy and productive work environment. Organizations can better support their employees through transitions by understanding the nature of stress, the processes involved in OCM and OD, and the benefits of mindful breathing practices. As illustrated in our podcast and personal experiences, these strategies can lead to successful outcomes and a more harmonious workplace.

American Psychological Association (APA). (n.d.). Handout 18: Breathing retraining.

Bentley, T. G. K., Gina D’Andrea-Penna, Rakic, M., Arce, N., LaFaille, M., Berman, R., . . . Sprimont, P. (2023). Breathing practices for stress and anxiety reduction: Conceptual framework of implementation guidelines based on a systematic review of the published literature. Brain Sciences, 13(12), 1612. doi:

Conte J. M., & Landy F. J. (2018). Work in the 21st Century: An Introduction to Industrial and Organizational Psychology. [MBS Direct]. Retrieved from

Dwivedi, U. C., Kumari, S., & Nagendra, H. R. (2015). Model of yoga intervention in industrial organizational psychology for counterproductive work behavior. Industrial Psychiatry Journal, 24(2), 119–124.

Robbins, M. (2023). Use This Breathing Pattern To Calm Your Mind & Boost Your Longevity. Mel Robbins Podcast.

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