During times of trial and adversity it is easy to forget to do one of the most important things needed for survival – breathe. Many of us take very shallow breaths or even stop breathing altogether during times of stress, fear, anxiety, and anger. It isn’t until someone reminds us to do this life-sustaining task or we begin to experience the resulting symptoms of lightheadedness, pain, or nearly lose consciousness that we are forced to inhale and exhale. Breathing is one of the many aspects of our lives handled by our brainstem, and while we can intentionally control the pace, rhythm, and how deeply we breath, it is an automatic function that takes places several thousand times a day for each of us.
Whether trying to catch your breath after a run or cardio activity, regain your composure during an intense argument, or calm yourself after having a frightening experience, learning to breathe through it can be a vital tool to have in your toolbox. Shallow, quick breathing can be one indication that the Fear Center of our brains has taken over in order to keep us alive and our actions are not being controlled by the thinking part of our brains. Taking deep, cleansing breaths can help engage the part of the brain that is logical, rational, and has language to express what we are experiencing and lessens the likelihood that we will react out of survival alone. If you have seen the movie Incredible Hulk (2008) played by Edward Norton, there is a scene where he is desperately attempting to NOT become the Hulk and he begins to monitor his vitals and regulate his breathing. Similarly, regulating our breathing can help us maintain control of ourselves and experiences.
If you are living you are breathing (even if it is with assistance), but that doesn’t necessarily speak to the quality of breaths you are taking. Below I will list several techniques that can help improve the quality of your breathing and can be used during times of stress, fear, anxiety, and pain to help you relax and regain control.
When Deep Breathing:
Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
Your diaphragm (belly) should expand when you inhale and contract when you exhale.
Make your exhales longer than your inhales.
Getting rid of the air (exhaling) is just as important as taking it in (inhale).
Try the following breathing exercise several times a day to improve the quality of your breathing and increase the likelihood that you will use it during times of distress:
Inhale for count of 5 (start with 3 if you need to work your way up)
Hold it for count of 7 (start with 4 if you need to work your way up)
SLOWLY exhale for count of 8 (start with 5 if you need to work your way up)
Repeat at least 2 more times
Try this for a few days and let us know how improved breathing is impacting your life!