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'Breathing Room' Reduces Stress

A man removes his mask to stretch and take a deep breath across from cherry blossoms at the Yuyuantan Park in Beijing on Thursday, March 26, 2020.
A man removes his mask to stretch and take a deep breath across from cherry blossoms at the Yuyuantan Park in Beijing on Thursday, March 26, 2020.
'Breathing Room' Reduces Stress
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And now, Words and Their Stories, from VOA Learning English.

If you are feeling nervous or stressed, a simple thing can help. Take a deep breath.

Deep breathing can calm your nerves and lower the chemicals in your body that can lead to stress. If one of your friends is stressed, you can calmly tell them, “Try to take a deep breath.”

We sometimes describe these as deep cleansing breaths. A long, deep breath feels as if it is cleaning out your body.

American English has some expressions that use breath or breathing in them. One expression is breathing room. This may sound like a room used especially for breathing. But it is not.

“Breathing room” gives you time or space to do something, finish something or get relief from something.

It is what the online dictionary Merriam-Webster defines as a “buffer of time, space or money that allows for freedom of movement or relief from a given source of pressure or stress.”

So, time, space and money can all give us breathing room.


First, here is an example related to time.

If you have a big work project or school project that is due in one month, you should start immediately if you can. This will give you some breathing room. If something goes wrong, you will have time to deal with it. Or if something fun comes up, like a party, you will have enough breathing room to be able to enjoy yourself.

If you wait until the very last minute to start your project, you have no breathing room. And that can cause you to feel very stressed.


Now, let’s talk about how money can give you breathing room.

When a country experiences a recession or depression, people who live paycheck-to-paycheck may find themselves in a tough situation. Living paycheck-to-paycheck means you have little money in savings. You need your next paycheck to pay your bills.

However, if you have some money put aside, you might feel less stressed. For example, having enough money in the bank to pay six months of your rent, would give you some breathing room if the economy took a turn for the worse.


Sometimes breathing room refers to actual space around you.

For example, let’s say you witness a car crash. The driver struggles to get out of the car as people gather around to see if he is okay. You step in to make sure there is enough space between the injured driver and the crowd of people. “Step back! Step back! Give him some breathing room!” you shout.

Here is another example. Let’s say you must stay at home because of bad weather, or because of an illness, or because a new virus has turned into a pandemic and is forcing the world inside on a stay-at-home order!

You may find that after a few days -- or even weeks -- you need more breathing room. In other words, you feel like you need more space -- away from those you live with.

So, you can think of it this way: Breathing room reduces stress. It gives you the time, money or space to get something done or to just feel relaxed.

And that brings us to the end of this Words and Their Stories.

Until next time … I’m Anna Matteo.

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

In the Comments Section, practice using "breathing room" or any other words and expression in this story.


Words in This Story

stress – n. a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work, etc.

calm – adj. not angry, upset, excited, etc.: calmly – adv.

relief – n. the removal or reducing of something that is painful or unpleasant

buffer – n. something that lessens the harmful effects of (something)

allow – v. to permit (someone) to have or do something

rent – n. money paid for the use of another's property

take a turn for the worse – expression : to become worse

relaxed – adj. set or being at rest or at ease