Breathing helps a person calm the mind, focus attention, become more centered; and slow down a racing, scattered, or stressed out brain. After breathing quietly, a person may be able to approach the very next task with more focused attention. (Where your attention is, your life is also!). Breathing is one of the world’s most universally recognized ways to calm oneself down and is used in childbirth, yoga, meditation, and music.
Has anyone ever told you to “just breathe”? What does that mean? Even people that are in the midst of a panic attack are breathing. If not, they would not be alive! What are some specific ways that you can rely on your breath in a way that create calmness?
1) Be aware of your breath when you are not anxious or upset. Take a minute to simply check in with yourself. Notice the inhale and the exhale- and the air moving in and out of your nostrils. Notice your chest or stomach rising and falling. If you do this a few times a day, or once a day for a week, you can start to be more in touch with your breath.
2) When people start to panic, they often hyperventilate. This can lead the feeling that a person just isn’t getting enough air, which can exacerbate feelings of panic. When feeling panicky or anxious, a person might take shallow breaths, gulp for air, or take hiccup-like breaths. One way to counteract this is to count on the inhale but count longer on the exhale. For instance, you can inhale to a steady count to five, but exhale to a steady count to seven or eight. Another variation on this theme can be inhaling as you take one step and exhaling as you take two or three steps.
3) Another way to assess the quality of breath is to put one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach. If you are breathing shallowly, the hand on your chest will be going up and down. Lengthening your exhale, breathing into your diaphragm, and getting the hand on your stomach to move up and down will help you breathe more deeply.
4) Similar to #3 (but harder to do in public situations) is to lie flat on the floor (on your stomach, face down). Put your hands underneath your forehead with your elbows sticking out to the side. This will also help you deepen your breath.