- Quality of Life & Wellness
Quick and Easy Breathing Exercises to Cope with Stress, Anxiety and Emotions
Breathe. Just breathe. It's so simple, it can't possibly help, can it? What do you mean just breathe? Of course I'm breathing! What a dumb thing to say.
I have the good fortune of being friends with a lot of highly-evolved folks who know a thing or two about helping the not-so-highly evolved such as myself. But when one of those friends said to me one day, "Don't forget to breathe," I couldn't help but cock an eyebrow and give her a "What the heck are you talking about" look. She told me I was holding my breath. I thought she was nuts, but the next time I found myself angst-ridden, I took notice of my body and realized she was right. Since then, I've noticed that I tend to do that when I'm highly stressed or anxious. I clench my jaw and hold my breath, taking only the most shallow inhalations when necessary. This response only heightens my stress and keeps me on edge. I've learned a few breathing techniques since then that really do ease my tension.
Easy and quick breathing techniques
Deep breathing supplies oxygen to your vital organs and releases toxins, including those caused by stress. It also calms the nervous system and quiets those racing thoughts, helping to cope with anxiety and improve mental clarity.
But it's not always possible to assume the lotus position and get all Zen when you're trying to make a deadline and, perhaps more crucially, are in the company of others who might think you're cuckoo. But there are ways to pause, even if only for a minute or two, and let the healing breath do its work. Some of these exercises can be done in public while some are probably best left for the privacy of home or the car.
Breathe. Just breathe. When stressed, pause and take notice of your breathing. Are you holding your breath? Taking very shallow breaths? Just observe. Then, if you're holding your breath, begin to consciously inhale and exhale, just to get a regular flow going, not too deeply. If the breaths are shallow, slowly deepen, breathing through your nose, extending to your diaphragm and causing your stomach to expand. Then slowly exhale, through the mouth if possible, but if that's too obvious in mixed company, through the nose. It's best to pause and sit quietly, but if you don't have time to stop whatever you're doing, just pause for a few seconds, long enough to establish a comfortable breath pattern, and resume your task, while still practicing focused breathing. The stress will lessen and you'll feel more calm and clear-headed and able to focus on the task at hand.
Square Breathing - This technique helps when the hamster wheel in your head just won't stop spinning. Take in a long, slow, deep breath, mentally counting to four. Then hold the breath four counts, and exhale, again counting to four. If it feels uncomfortable, go to three or whatever number works best. The breathing calms while the counting helps distract the mind from obsessive ruminating by giving it another focus. This works when I've gone round and round with an idea but can't reach a decision. It helps me shift my focus, take a break and rejuvenate.
Release the stress - When work follows you home and you can't stop obsessing over the boss's incompetency, a client's criticism or the fact that the guy who wears the Bart Simpson T-shirt makes more money than you, it's time to let go. Whether it's work stress or personal life challenges, there's a saturation point where enough is enough and all that mental energy devoted to the past is robbing you of living in the present. Take all that stress and frustration and anger and imagine picking it up and clenching your fists tight around it. Squeeze your fists tight. Breathe inward and hold your breath for as long as is comfortable and safe. Then, let out a rush of air - make noise if you need to, assuming, of course, that you're in private by this point - and quickly unclench your fists and push your arms forward, as if pushing all that stress and angst away from you, releasing it into the universe, where there is a force strong enough to bear it. Leave it with the universe as long as you can, until it's time to pick up that task again.
Create peace- In the midst of chaos, stop, breathe deeply, in and out, and affirm: I am peaceful. My life is peaceful. I am attracting peace. I am creating peace. Say it slowly and calmly. Even if all signs point to the contrary, this really does work. The mind believes what you tell it. Another great affirmation/breathing exercise is to think 'Peace inward' on the in breath and 'Anxiety outward' on the out breath. You can also use 'Calm inward' and 'Fear outward' or whatever emotions you want to intensify/decrease.
The Hisser -Breathe deeply in through the nose and then release through the mouth. On the release, pucker the lips while they are slightly open, then draw them back as though you're smiling. I don't know why this works, but it really helps when angry. The hissing noise that results when drawing back the mouth is an effective release of emotion. Again, this one might best be used during private time, or even on an escape to the bathroom while at work. Run the water if you think someone might hear you. Hey, you've got to do what you've got to do to decompress!
Tough emotions - If it's hard to feel and express emotions, breathing can help. Sometimes, just focused, deep breathing can bring up emotions that have been buried and are causing stress. Whether it's sadness or anger or fear, an emotion can be more bearable if you ride the wave while breathing. The breath anchors and comforts you, letting you know you are more than your emotions and you can feel this and still be OK. Yell or cry out on the out breath if need be. Get that toxic stuff out!