Take a pause.
Breathe a lil more,
Smile a lil more,
Live a lil more.
- Nancy Kaur
I love this poem. It reminds me to pause. When we feel stressed, we often think the answer is to do more, but the greatest gift you can give yourself is to take a deep breath and let go of the stress.
Simple breathing exercises can help to ease your stress and anxiety. And when we reduce stress, we can relax and enjoy life a little bit more.
With chronic stress, such as worrying about your health or finances, feeling stuck in a job your dislike, a bad marriage, or fearing that something terrible will happen, the nervous system keeps the body on alert. This state takes an enormous toll on your body. Levels of stress hormones increase significantly, and your muscles remain in a nearly constant state of tension.
Deep breathing helps lower stress in the body because breathing deeply sends a message to the brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to the body. Deep breathing also causes certain things that happen when stress occurs, such as increased heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure, to decrease.
There is a reason why we tell people who are stressed out or have just had an accident and are in shock to 'just breathe', or 'take a nice deep breath'. The breath is a simple and effective way of creating a calm state of mind, so here are some breathing exercises that could help you when you feel overwhelmed.
Firstly, we need to check in with ourselves to find out how we are breathing at the moment. Is it shallow, quick, or deep and relaxed? To find out, simply rest one hand just below your ribcage and the other on your heart, close your eyes and notice which hand is moving more. Sit and connect to the breath, paying attention to the movement of your body. We are not trying to change the breath here or judge it, just noting what's happening with kind curiosity. Sit like this for a few minutes, and if the hand on your chest is moving more, see if you can switch and take deeper belly breaths, so your other hand moves more. Notice how your shoulders soften and whether you feel calmer after doing this for a few minutes.
Imagine how much calmer you would feel if you were to check in with yourself throughout the day to allow your body to take a few deep, calming and refreshing breaths. It's a simple thing, but it works! Connecting with your breath helps you become more relaxed, and you can move on to the calm breath technique.
Once you have connected and are breathing in a relaxed, even way, breathing in and out in a comfortable rhythm, you can take this deeper by extending your out-breath. This technique is a calming breath that activates and calms your nervous system, relaxing your body. Breathing this way benefits your whole body, mind, spirit, improving your mental and physical state and enhancing your mood.
Try it for yourself
Choosing to practice calm breath daily, even for five minutes, can make a difference to your well-being, not just when you feel anxious.
Don't get stressed trying to pick the "right" breathing technique. Choose whatever relaxes you. Here are some other methods you might try:
Foursquare breathing. Breathe deeply so that your abdomen expands and contracts like a balloon with each breath. Inhale to a count of four, hold for a count of four, exhale to a count of four, then hold to a count of four.
Guided imagery. Breathe slowly and deeply. For example, imagine a tranquil scene in which you feel comfortable, safe, and relaxed. Include colours, sounds, smells, and your feelings.
Mindfulness meditation. Sit or lie quietly and notice your breathing without controlling it. If pain or thoughts interfere, simply notice them without trying to push them away. Think of them as a cloud passing over, then return to observing your breath.
Remember, you can do these breathing exercises anywhere! At your desk, in a queue, while sitting in traffic. Wherever you are, and whatever you're doing, connecting with your breath will support your body in a subtle, gentle and effective way. When you connect with your breath, you'll start to notice how quickly it can calm you and bring you into the present moment.
Deep breaths are like little love notes to yourself.