Toilet Breath: A Weird, Remarkably Effective Stress Management Strategy

by Lydia Johnson, M.S. (Certified Holistic Career Coach)

Ready to learn a handy, 30-second stress management strategy that I learned from… my doula?

Yep, you read the right. Today’s Quick Tip Tuesday is inspired by the amazing doula who helped me survive my pregnancy, labor, and delivery.

Today’s tool is… toilet breath.

white ceramic toilet bowl with cover
Welcome to your new zen spot. Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash. PS- Turns out there’s not a lot of stock art of toilets. Who knew?

When I was pregnant, my doula taught me how to use long, deep exhales paired with intentional full-body relaxation to prepare for the onslaught of labor and delivery.

So, my doula’s sage advice? Practice it every time you are on the toilet.

I think this was partially because of some labor-prep-specific pelvic floor positioning needs… but regardless, this is actually a brilliant behavioral change hack called cueing or habit stacking. Or, if you’re a mindfulness practitioner, you might consider it a mindfulness bell, like the tones that resonate throughout a monastery to bring practitioners back into the present moment.

Behavioral change strategies like this are incredibly helpful because it’s easier to sandwich a new behavior into an existing routine (like your bathroom routine!) than starting from scratch or remembering unprompted.

Here’s Your QTT Homework:

Every time you use the bathroom for the next week…

  • Take a long inhale through the nose (e.g., 4 seconds)
  • Pause at the top
  • Take a very long exhale through the mouth (e.g., 8 seconds)
  • While exhaling, try to fully relax your whole body, letting go of any tension or tightness. You’re no longer an anxiety-ridden, rigged human— you’re a deflating human-shaped balloon.
  • Repeat your breathing and relaxing at least 3 times every bathroom visit.
  • Bonus: Make another reminder on your phone with a daily notification. You can even name it something less weird than “toilet breath” if you want.

This tool still helps me today. It helped me when I learned it over two years ago and was pregnant while working a high-stress corporate consultation job. This tool sure hell helped me when I accidentally waited to go to the hospital until I was in active labor. In fact, I credit relaxation techniques like this as the reason why I was able to walk into the hospital 9cm dilated and have the nurses question if I should be checking in yet because I seemed so chill. No one believed I was that far along, or at least not until my water dramatically broke when filling out the check-in forms! 🙃

So, give it a try, and let me know if it works for you in the comments.

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Wait, Why Does Breathing & Muscle Relaxation Work as a Stress Management Strategy?

Deep breaths and intentional muscle relaxation are game-changing stress management and centering tools that are useful to anyone, whether you’re preparing to push a baby out of your body, pitch a giant presentation, or just trying to mitigate the long-term damage of chronic stress and burnout.

Why do breathing and muscle relaxation work? Because you’re activating your parasympathetic nervous system, which tells your body, “Hey, it’s OK— we aren’t running from a bear. You can sit here for a minute and take some deep breaths instead of preparing to sprint for your life.”

Remember, we’re still pretty much walking around with caveman brains. Our bodies are wired to run from short-term, physical threats (like bears)… not face down a stress-inducing 9-5 (or 8-8, I see you Ms. Overworked) every day. When you’re stuck in chronic stress mode, your body is literally preparing to fight, flight, or freeze (blackout when being eaten by said bear). So, let’s send it lots of signals that we’re actually safe and our jobs won’t actually hunt us and eat us, okay?

Hi, I'm Lydia Johnson, MS

Hi, I'm Lydia Johnson, MS

Holistic Career Coach & Founder of ThriveCulture Coaching

I’m a dual-certified career coach and Industrial-Organizational Psychology consultant on a mission to banish Sunday Scaries and help you reclaim your life from work stress. I specialize in helping ultra-busy people design a fulfilling and burnout-free career that leaves more space for the rest of your life. Whether you need to overhaul everything, find a new job, or make your current role work better for you, I’m here to help.

You can learn more about my holistic and evidence-based approach on my website or jump on the phone for a FREE 20-minute consult call to learn more about how career coaching can help you finally enjoy a fulfilling, burnout-free career.


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