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How to harness your breath - to better manage nerves, anxiety & improve wellbeing

Updated: Apr 24, 2023

Updated March 11th 2023 With expert advice from: Jenny Mollica, Director of The English National Opera’s Baylis programme.


Italian opera tenor Andrea Bocelli performed Nessun Dorma at The Global Awards in 2018 and wowed audiences as he finished the aria by holding its final note for 18 seconds. Watch it below – the final long note comes in at 3:45.



Opera singers are masters of breath control and, while that’s crucial in singing, our breathing is also critical for managing nerves, stress, and anxiety in our personal and professional lives.


If you’ve ever spoken publicly and experienced shortness of breath, woken in the night struggling for breath because you’re worrying about work, or are perhaps feeling anxious about heading back into the office, learning techniques to harness your breath can help improve your mental and physical wellbeing.


Bromley by Bow Centre
Bromley by Bow Centre

It’s not every day you get an opportunity to pose a question to Jenny Mollica, Director of Strategy and Engagement at the English National Opera (ENO), so when I met her at a Bromley By Bow Centre event, I grabbed it. Jenny’s work includes leading ENO Breathe, an award-winning breathing and wellbeing programme developed specifically for people recovering from COVID-19, in close collaboration with Imperial College Healthcare Trust.


The ENO has been partnering with the Bromley by Bow Centre for quite some time, using singing to improve mental health within the East End community the charity serves. Due to Covid, ENO’s work, using singing to improve health, has been recognised nationally and is now being prescribed for long COVID sufferers who struggle with shortness of breath. Read more about that work here. But, as with all my voice coaching work, my interest was in what we can learn and practically apply from the experts of breath in the world of opera to improve professional and personal performance. So, when the panel discussion opened for questions, I asked Jenny which one breathing exercise she’d recommend to help professionals better manage nerves or anxiety.

Here’s her advice, in her very own words…

 

Countdown to calm.


The human voice is given agency through connecting with breath.


This exercise is designed to help you focus on your breath - to breathe in, knowing that you are breathing in, and to breathe out, knowing you are breathing out.


It’s an exercise you can do anytime, but a particularly good time is when you are lying in bed – either when you are getting ready to go to sleep, or when you first wake up.


Start by noticing your breathing.


Begin to count your breaths backwards from 10 to 1.


In your head, say ‘I am breathing in 10, I am breathing out 10.


I am breathing in 9, I am breathing out 9.’


Count back all the way from 10 to 1.


The moment you notice your focus drifting, make a point of bringing it back and start the count again at 10.


If you manage to get all the way to 1, start at 15 next time.


You can use this tool to anchor yourself in the present moment at times when you might feel anxious or overwhelmed.

 

Brilliant advice – thank you Jenny Mollica.

Susan Room




Susan Room powerfully combines voice and executive coaching. Fascinated by the correlation between mindset, body language, speech, and voice, she attended the world-renowned Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Graduating with a distinction in Voice Studies, Susan applies her learning by adapting actor voice training to help professionals advance in the new world of work.


Susan’s a long-time friend of the Bromley-by-Bow Centre and has gifted her time to the leadership team there in her capacity as a coach.

 

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