Breathing – one of those basic human functions that we don’t have to think about doing … most of the time. When the stress of our lives becomes too intense, our brains can hijack a moment, that in turn kicks our body’s response into high gear. We start to feel overwhelmed, anxious, panicked, angry, confused, numb, stuck, frozen, and/or under too much pressure. Our heart rate and blood pressure increases, we start to sweat, feel nauseated, shaky, tense, and it is not so easy to concentrate. In these moments (and many others), the first step to relaxation and relief is regaining control of our breathing.
Why should I do it?
There are studies that show deep breathing can help reduce anxiety, stress, and depression, among other things. Practicing deep breath work regularly as a part of a routine can benefit both your physical health and emotional wellbeing. Other benefits to consider relate to what happens when we learn to take a deep breath – breathing can help let go of tension, relax away from panic, refocus attention, and regulate emotions. Taking a moment to just breathe may not be the magic wand in every situation. However, it can create the change you are looking for when used with along with other coping skills. It can make a difference, big or small.
So how do I take a deep breath when I feel overwhelmed or panicked?
Get to a safe or comfortable space if possible
Sit or lay down (optional)
Breathe in through your nose - let the air expand your chest and stomach
Breathe out through your mouth
Repeat until you notice you start to relax
As you become more relaxed, pause and hold your breath for up to 5 seconds after breathing in before breathing out
Repeat until you feel better
Need something more than just breathing? Do you have or know someone that needs something extra to help focus on breathing? Here are just a few ways to add a level of distraction to make deep breathing easier for you!
● Box/Square breathing - Trace the shape of a box/square as you focus on your breath. Breathe in as you trace up, hold your breath as you trace side to side, and breathe out as you trace down. Count to 4 or 5 per side.
● Tapping - Cross your arms in front of your chest and slowly tap your hands back and forth on your shoulders. You can also use the same technique but instead tapping each hand on each knee or slowly walking your feet in place.
● Guided Imagery or Meditation - There are several apps, YouTube channels, podcasts, etc. you can use to pause and focus on mental imagery or meditative practices. You can also imagine smelling something freshly baked and blowing on it to cool it off, smelling a flower and blowing a leaf, etc.
● Blow bubbles - Practice deep breathing with children by using bubbles. Have them blow out at different speeds to see how many bubbles they can make!
If you are interested in learning more about deep breathing, coping mechanisms or need additional support in the event deep breathing is not working, contact CCA to get an appointment with one of our counselors.
By: Emma Bailey
MS, LPC, LCPC, RPT