Written by Psychologist Jamie Maserow
An amazing gift we carry with us at all times is the power of our breath.
Breathing is a function that we subconsciously perform, continuously from the second we are born. During my recent studies and work as a psychologist, I have noticed how much our breath can help us in the most stressful and difficult times.
When life gets rough, we tend to take short, shallow breaths from our chest which actually exacerbates many of the physiological symptoms of anxiety e.g. racing thoughts, sweaty palms or forehead, trembling and a racing heart. It is in these times that we can use the power of our breath to help regulate our bodies and induce a state of relaxation. Psychologist Dr Russ Harris describes the breath further by saying “It’s like an anchor in the midst of an emotional storm: the anchor won’t get rid of the storm, but it will hold you steady until it passes.”
Russ Harris, also the founder of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy states that one of the most common misbeliefs in society is that “we believe we are always meant to feel happy.” This is not actually the case, and to put it simply, life involves pain and there is no escaping it. According to Russ, with the best and most beautiful things in life comes the challenges. Mindful breathing is one simple tool we can use any place and anytime to support us and help us get through the challenges.
Diaphragmatic breathing, is when we take slow, mindful inhalations with the belly expanding. We can feel the gentle rise and fall of our abdominal area as we breathe. This sends a message to our brain that adrenaline is no longer required. Gradually, we become physically more at ease and as a result can think more clearly.
In sessions with many clients, I instruct an activity whereby we time a minute and count how many breaths the client takes. I then teach the clients how to use diaphragmatic breathing and we time another minute, where the goal is to achieve between 6-9 slow breaths. It is amazing to me how much of a difference I notice in the client’s presentation and usually the feedback is “Wow, I feel more relaxed and calm.”
With many of my clients, we set goals to practice this breathing for 5 minutes per day. The aim of this exercise is so that this healthy breathing style eventually becomes their natural breathing rate and style, and also in times of distress and anxiety-provoking situations clients have this as a tool to use.
My suggestion is to just try simple exercise this right now:
INHALE deep into your belly and feel it expand for 1.. 2.. 3..
HOLD the inhale breath for 1.. 2.. 3..
EXHALE SLOWLY as the belly softens for 1.. 2.. 3..
REPEAT this pattern for one minute at least.
And just notice how it feels for you…