breathwork

3 Simple Breathing Techniques For Stressful Times

The breath is an amazingly powerful tool that you can use to help calm you down when you’re feeling stressed. By tuning into your breath, breathing rhythmically or doing deep belly breathing, you can begin to feel differently. Practicing daily can increase the benefits.

You might be thinking, “I breathe all day long and I’m still stressed!” I hear you. The difference with these techniques is that you’re going to be breathing in ways that promote your body’s natural stress responses and your body will be soothing itself!

Ready to get started? Try the different techniques described below. Notice which one you find to be most helpful and use it any time you feel stressed.

Paying mindful attention to your breath can be calming

Paying mindful attention to your breath can be calming

1. Tune into your breath. Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted for about three minutes. Sit upright, comfortably, with your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands in your lap. You can have your palms facing up or down, depending on what feels good to you in that moment. Close your eyes or gaze softly in front of you. Take three slow, deep breaths, filling and emptying your lungs completely. Then let your breathing return to its natural rhythm. Tune your attention to your breath and notice where you feel it. It might be your chest rising and falling or your belly going in and out. Or, you might feel a coolness as the breath enters your nostrils and warmth as it exits. Continue to pay attention to your breath as you breathe naturally. Your attention might wander, because we’re always thinking. When it does wander, I want you to notice that it has and bring it back to the breath. Continue to do this for another minute or two. It’s that easy (or not!).  If you prefer a guided exercise you can click the recording below.

2. 4-7-8 breathing. This technique can help reduce overall stress and help you feel more calm in times of stress, especially if you’ve been practicing daily. To do this technique, you will breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth with the tip of your tongue placed on the roof of your mouth, right behind your teeth.

To begin, exhale slowly and then breathe in through your nose for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven and then exhale through your mouth, with the air passing around your tongue, making a whooshing sound, for a count of 8. Repeat this 3 more times. Practice each day when you’re not stressed, so it becomes a habit. When it becomes a part of your routine, begin to use it to help manage any stress that arises.

3. Belly Breathing. Take a few deep breaths and pay attention to your chest and belly. If your belly rises and falls with each breath, you’re already belly breathing! If your chest rises and falls we’re going to do a little exercise to teach you belly breathing.

Deep belly breathing can be done wherever you are

Deep belly breathing can be done wherever you are

As you breathe in, try to imagine that your breath is traveling all the way down your spine and into your belly, filling up the space, so your belly fills up like a balloon. Then exhale fully, using your stomach muscles to push all of the air up and out, emptying that belly space. Begin by practicing this when you’re feeling pretty good. Then, as you feel more comfortable with belly breathing, pause and try it when you feel stressed. Here’s a fun video from Elmo to see how it works.

I’ve heard some clients say that intentionally allowing their belly to expand can be an uncomfortable experience. I think that because our culture values fit, tight stomachs, it feels weird to push it out. I suggest that you keep practicing, maybe when there’s no one around, until it feels more natural.

You can adopt one or all of theses techniques to help you live a less stressful life!


Photo by Ian KeefeAndre Hunter on Unsplash

Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979. 

 

 

 

Mindfulness In Times Of Uncertainty

This week Daniela Paolone guest blogs about using mindfulness when things in the world are feeling unsettled and uncertain. She is the owner of Westlake Village Counseling and she helps those with anxiety, chronic pain, chronic illness, and medical trauma find new ways of coping so that they can live their best lives. Daniela uses an integrative and holistic approach that helps clients feel both empowered and informed.  The approaches used are influenced by her experience as a person living with chronic pain and illness. You can read more about her practice, and how to follow her on social media at the end of the blog.


There has been so much going on in our world lately that it can leave us feeling worried and uncertain.  We may find it hard right now to stay focused on our day-to-day tasks because we keep getting flooded with new information regarding world events.

So what are we to do when we are feeling this way?

Perhaps in these moments we need to allow ourselves to feel what we feel.  Giving ourselves permission to express our emotions can help us to better cope and move onto a path of healing and recovery.

1. Active Meditation

This approach also happens to be a mindfulness practice. 

Bring attention to one activity

Bring attention to one activity

During hard times, thoughts and concerns can show up in a person’s mind that can be overwhelming.  However, when bringing attention to only one concern, the mind and body redirect their attention to that single thought.  When this happens, the mind and body begin to slow down and become more calm.

The advantages of mindfulness practices is that they can allow us to gain greater self-awareness and focus on what matters most. Putting these thoughts into perspective helps to quiet down all the noise and distractions. This then can lead to experiencing life with less overwhelm and distress.

2.  Dial Back On The News And Social Media

Feeling the need to stay up-to-date on world events can oftentimes leave us feeling stressed.  The constant information overload tends to turn on our stress response which then can be difficult to turn off.

Thinking back to the last time you watched the news, how did it make you feel? Did you feel drained and unwell afterwards?

If that has been your experience, please know you are not alone.  The truth is, is that the brain is designed to only handle so much information at a time.  When that time goes on indefinitely, the mind becomes overstimulated.  It can also be difficult for the mind to get back into a relaxed state even after you have stopped watching the news.

Take time away from the news and social media

Take time away from the news and social media

So if you reduce the amount spent with these activities, you may notice a shift in how you feel.  Do you observe a change in your breathing?  Do your thoughts become more clear? Are you feeling more grounded and present in your current surroundings?  Is it easier now to stay on task?

3.  Breathwork

Breathwork is another way to cope when feeling overwhelmed by current events.  When there is significant loss and devastation happening in the world, it is easy to feel powerless.  However a breathing practice is another way where we can work towards feeling more calm and in control.  

With a regular breathwork practice, the mind and body are learning how to slow down and both mentally and physically.  This is because you are directing your attention to the breath.  Moving from a state of trying to multitask, to instead focusing on one action, is what mindfulness is all about.

meditate.jpg

Breathwork serves as a great mindfulness practice because it reminds us about what we can control.  This can be such a welcome experience when we are going through difficult times.  Sometimes we need the reminder that there are aspects within us that we do have a say in.  Aspects such as how we are breathing, where we are sitting, and what activity we are taking part in.

There are a variety of breathing exercises, but the one I am sharing here is one that really seems to resonate with others. This exercise combines breathing techniques with visualizations.  So below, I put together a sample of a mindfulness script that I use both personally and with clients.

Sample Breathing Mindfulness Exercise

When in a seated position, I want you to have your feet planted firmly on the ground and your hands resting comfortably on your lap.  As you get comfortable in this seated position, you make small adjustments in your body to make sure you feel comfortable and well supported.  Once you find that comfortable position, you gently close your eyes and start practicing deep belly breathing.

As you inhale, you breathe in through your nose, and on the exhale, you open your mouth into a relaxed position and let the air go freely.  When on the inhale, you visualize your belly expanding out like a balloon, and on the exhale, that balloon becomes smaller.  As you continue to breathe in and out, you find a comfortable pace for each inhale in and exhale out.  With each breath, you start to feel your muscles relax because more and more oxygen is getting into you muscles.  You feel your body settle in more deeply and you continue to relax.

When you feel ready, you add in a thought on the inhale that you are breathing in calm, healing energy.  On the exhale, you visualize that you are breathing out your worries and concerns.  The more and more you breathe in and out, you continue to feel those worries leave your body. You begin to notice how you feel within, and observe it with curiosity. Your mind and body are also taking in all the healing and calming energy with every inhale, leaving you with the sensation of inner calm and peace.

You continue this breathing for a few more minutes in silence, and when you feel ready, begin to wiggle your toes and fingers.  Slowly open your eyes and look around the room, taking in what you see, hear, feel, smell and taste.   You are getting your mind and body back to where you are now.  You may feel like getting up and walking around to take note of what you see and hear.  Stretching and moving your body help you to orient yourself to where you are now.  Once you feel connected and present with the here and now, you notice how you feel physically.  You may feel more relaxed while also feeling energized and refreshed to continue on with your day.

Final Thoughts

While what is happening in the world may bring up feelings of instability and concern, there will always be aspects of life that remind us that we do know how to manage these worries so that they do not get the best of us. In the end, we get to have a say in many aspects of life.  How we set that up each day and implement it can make a big impact in how we feel each and every day.  We have the ability to reign in the distress by using mindfulness practices so that we can live our life on our own terms.  Small changes can lead to bigger shifts for the better to keep you grounded when upsetting world events takes place.


Daniela utilizes mindfulness based techniques, such as Emotional Freedom Technique, guided imagery and more. She helps them develop a new relationship with themselves.  As the body changes over time due to illness, which can be a difficult transition, Daniela honors where the client is in this process and helps them to become more in-tune with their body. She explores their emotions as different thoughts come to the surface.  

Daniela provides in-person and online counseling for California residents looking for more support.  You can find her offering free presentations in Southern California where she talks about pain management, the stress and pain connection, alternative techniques for improved sleep and more.  To find out where she is presenting next, or to learn more about her work and offerings, you can sign up for her monthly email newsletter here.

Daniela can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Instagram

 


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-340-8469. 

New Mindfulness Groups beginning in January, 2018. Email me if you'd like to know more!

Photos by Cassie Boca and Annie Spratt and  Aubin A Sadiki on Unsplash