Who isn’t? The world is in pain and so are we in response. As we follow recent news, we experience feelings of stress. And with fear or stress come changes in our breathing. Our breaths come faster, and they are shallower. These changes are a normal, automatic and instinctual response to emotional and mental stress. It’s part of what scientists call the “fight or flight” response … Our Neanderthal ancestors very likely experienced the same reaction when they noticed a cave bear lurking around their living rooms.
What is important to know is that the opposite causal reaction is also an innate, natural biological process. That is, changing our breathing can reduce our level of mental or emotional distress.
The article below appeared in my in-box just in time. I receive emails from professional healers and coaches offering ways I can continue to improve my life. Thank you, Marty Maddin, for sending this to me at exactly the right moment. Marty is a Leadership & Performance Coach for PEAK Performance International (PPI) www.thepowerofppi.com (full disclosure: Marty also happens to be my son-in-law).
Marty notes: “We all have our triggers for frustration, anxiety, anger, or distress. Our nervous systems send those signals – maybe an increased heart rate, tenseness in our body, panicked thoughts. These are all symptoms of a triggered state. Maybe you’ve felt them before giving a presentation, or while sitting on an airplane, or during a conflict at work.”
Marty advised me to try this breathing technique to calm myself: What we should be doing when we feel normal, everyday distress is focusing on our BREATHING. Specifically – consciously slowing it down. Inhale…. Hold…. Exhale…. Hold … Repeat. The way we breathe changes when we’re under stress –but our level of stress also can change depending on how we breathe. This fact is widely accepted by scientists and wellness professionals.
“The good news is that there’s a way to manage those physiological symptoms in the moment and quickly calm yourself. Jody Michael’s recent Chief Executive article Three Reasons You Can’t Keep Calm And Lead On (chiefexecutive.net) details how deep abdominal breathing (or diaphragmatic breathing) can quickly oxygenate your system to change your triggered physiological state.”
Here are the steps Jody recommends (which sound a lot like Marty’s):
- Take a big, deep breath. Make sure your belly is getting bigger. (If your chest is getting bigger and your belly smaller, focus more on your lower torso.)
- Hold it while you silently count to six.
- Release the breath slowly.
- Repeat as needed.
You can use this technique (without anyone noticing) while you take a pause on stage or during a heated conversation. (Now, during a true threat, you won’t be able to make your muscles behave this way, but during normal stress, it works well.) If you find yourself feeling short of breath or that you’re not getting enough air, you can speed it up a little.
The beauty of this technique is that it’s simple, easy and it works fast. At Jewish Senior Life our residents choose chair yoga and meditation which are important stress relievers. We can’t often excuse ourselves for 20 minutes to practice them in the heat of an argument or a meeting with coworkers. Simply pausing to slow down your breathing, though, is an efficient way to calm your nerves AND it allows you a moment to gain perspective in the heat of whatever life throws at you.
Practice makes perfect. Inhale…. Hold…. Exhale…. Repeat.