Trying your best to be a calm parent to a toddler or a teenager in tantrum mode?
Making an important phone call and your heart is pounding?
Reading through an assignment for school or insurance enrollment paperwork and you instantly feel overwhelmed?
Talking about something heavy and feeling all the feelings so much so that you can’t even think anymore?
Feeling stressed, tense, under pressure?
If you’ve ever found yourself in one of these situations or a thousand more, and you are looking for something TO DO to make it a little better I would like to make the case for taking a deep breath.
Really. I mean it.
I realize that this is not new information, and you have probably heard the suggestion tens of times already. I also know that knowing and doing are two different things. I’ve “known” about the value of focusing on your breath forever, but it is only in the last few years that it has become a personal go-to tool. Two things made the difference - science and necessity. First, I did some reading about how slowing your breath is the most impactful way to calm down your body. It slows down your heart rate and tells your nervous system to stand down; this is not a fight or flight situation. Anxiety and anger go down (shoulders peel away from your ears), and the thinking part of your brain is able to take the wheel. Hallelujah that was what I wanted! The second thing that made the difference and led to deep breathing becoming a part of my life was…..necessity. I was feeling significant distress and needed some additional tools. This led to a willingness to try something new and the energy to stick with it. And it worked. It didn’t cost any money, could be done anywhere without anyone knowing, and took only a few minutes to make an impact.
There are numerous deep breathing cues out there to guide you, but the two I return to over and over is 1. Square breathing and 2. 4/8 breathing
Start by drawing the shape of a square on your leg. On the first line of the square breathe in through your nose and then pause at the corner. On the second line of the square, breathe out slowly through your mouth and pause at the corner. On the third line breath in and pause at the corner, and the fourth line breathe out through your mouth and pause at the corner. Draw the square again, counting to 4 in your head as you trace each line.
Image via cherylschirillo.com
Complete 4 rounds of square breathing, and check in to see if your body and brain feel a little calmer.
Start by breathing in for the count of four, pause for a count of 7, and then out for the count of 8. Repeat three more times. Return to normal breathing for a minute and then repeat the cycle. The numbers aren’t a magic formula and can be adjusted to what is comfortable for you, but the key is to breathe out for twice as long as you breathe in.
Practice both of these now when things are calm and easy. Then, when you find yourself in distress and looking for something that will help, draw a square on your leg or focus on counting while you breathe. Deep breathing has the potential to make a real difference for you the way it has for me and for many others.
Please share in the comments other breathing cues that work for you or stories of when deep breathing has helped.
Licensed Resident in Counseling