Feeling stressed? Let’s work on decreasing your stress level by focusing on a very simple coping skill that we take for granted. Can you guess what it is? Breathing! Take a moment and focus on your breath. If you do yoga or meditate, you are familiar with this practice. When you start to pay attention to your breath, you’ll notice it starts to naturally change a bit. That’s ok. Just take notice of it. Is it short and quick? Long and drawn out? Shallow? Deep? Is it weird to focus on your breath? Does it relax you or make you anxious? Don’t analyze it too much. Just be aware of it.
Stress and Breathing
In life, we tend to be in a rush. We hurry and focus on everything else. Worried about life. Stressed about events. We lose focus on our breathing. It’s not to say that every minute of every day we need to be hyper focused on our breathing. Thank goodness our brains do that for us! But, it is important to notice when we start to feel down or anxious if our breathing might be making things worse. Short, quick breaths that stay in the top of our lungs (you’ll notice your shoulders moving up and down more than your chest moving out and in when breathing) tend to exacerbate our negative emotions and affect our ability to think clearly. This poor breathing also tends to tense up our body.
When we are suffering from depression and anxiety we tend to take shallow, short breaths. We lose focus of our most basic need and nature’s natural relaxer in some ways: oxygen. A tool that nourishes our bodies. I used to work with a therapist that would encourage his clients to breathe like a sleeping baby. They take in deep belly breaths, and you can see their bodies rise and fall with each breath. It’s truly how we were meant to breathe.
Find Your Rhythm
So, what are ways to pay attention to your breathing that can help you relax? One good tip is to set a reminder on your phone that goes off at the same time every day. Pick a time that generally is calm enough for you to focus. When it goes off, stop what you are doing and take a deep breath in to the count of 4 and slowly let it out to the count of 6. Do this 5 times. Feel free to take deeper breaths in and out to a count that feels right to you but keep it consistent. Your goal is to level out your heart rate, supply a good amount of oxygen to your brain, and relax your body. You will find once you do this enough days at the same time, you’ll start to naturally do it at other times as well. It reminds your body of the natural coping skill it has.
Funny enough, my husband sometimes thinks I am huffing or frustrated when I take a deep breath in and out during an argument or when he has done something I don’t like. In reality, I am just taking a moment to focus on my breath before I do or say something we both may not like. Plus, I’d rather tell myself to stop and take a deep breath than have him tell me to!
Life is full of adventures (we call this a positive reframe in the counseling world!) and stressors that keep us tense and anxious or down. Why not try a simple technique that can help you handle these challenging moments and get you focused back on being a better you?