Feeling Stressed? Overwhelmed? Rushed off your feet?
Then stop for a few minutes and come up for air; just breathe!
“But I don’t have time!” I hear you say. Let me tell you, if that’s the case you definitely need to stop and breathe!
Why should I stop to breathe?
Let me take you back to when I’d just been diagnosed with M.E./Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).
I’m standing, in quiet desperation, staring at the Self Help section in the bookshop.
- I need matchsticks to keep my eyelids from closing,
- My legs ache so much that I want to sit on the floor. Regardless of the fact that people will think me weird, and
- I’m looking for that one book that will solve all my problems in one go.
Just then my eyes fix on the spine of a book, which is tiny in comparison to the many others on the shelves.
The book is all about breathing. And as I flick through the pages, I think someone must be trying to tell me something. Amazingly, the words that I pick up on are just so relevant to me.
We’re programmed to breathe properly at birth
I read how, when we’re born, our bodies are programmed to breathe ‘properly. But throughout our life, we can end up getting into bad habits with our breathing. It’s these bad habits that can cause stress on our bodies and be the main cause of many of our symptoms.
There were times when I struggled to take a really deep breath.
I felt like I was unable to really fill my lungs with air. This happened when I was at rest as opposed to doing anything active. I always put it down to anxiety, and just thought that it would pass once my problems went away.
However, the book taught me just the opposite. If I learned to breathe properly again, this would in fact help reduce my stress levels. Which would almost certainly help to ease many of my health issues.
I’m quite sure that my bad breathing habit started, or was at least made worse, during the last months of my late husband’s life. After all, for the 11 months that he was terminally ill, I was in a permanent state of anxiety. Ironically, waiting for his last breath and, without knowing, was probably holding my breath for most of the time.
The resulting symptoms of bad breathing can differ depending on when a person holds their breath; on inhale or exhale.
After doing more research, I discovered that poor breathing habits could not only contribute to the symptoms of M.E./CFS but also to high blood pressure, depression and much more!
“The unconsciously altered breath allows you to survive but it does not allow you to thrive”
(quoted from The Breathing Book)
As a result of reading this book and others, I started doing daily breathing exercises.
Breathing correctly is self-regulation for the body.
Taking time to improve our breathing habits can help to:
- lower the heart rate
- regulate blood pressure
- boost the immune system
- balance hormones
- balance the sympathetic system (fight or flight), and
- balance the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest)
How can you make time to breathe?
Some good times to practice breathing exercises are –
- first thing in the morning, as soon as you wake up, before getting out of bed.
- last thing at night, before going to sleep,
- when driving,
- whilst do the dishes,
- as you watch the T.V,
- on a long walk.
Some other ways to ‘re-learn’ how to breathe properly
Better breathing definitely helps to reduce stress and energy levels, and general wellbeing. So it’s worth making the following habits a routine in your life.
- If ever you notice yourself holding your breath, or feeling breathless, just breathe! In time, you will break the bad habits you’ve got into, and will breathe properly without knowing it.
- Aim to get out in the fresh air everyday to breathe. Preferably, take a gentle walk in nature or by the sea; even if just for 20 minutes. Fresh air and gentle exercise works wonders for the brain and your state of mind.
- Download one of the many Apps for your phone, which are a good aid to your breathing sessions. I particularly like the ‘Calm’ App, which has a useful tool to breathe along to for however long you like. Having it on your phone means that it is with you at all times. So there’s no excuse not to stop and breathe for just 5 or 10 minutes every now and then. How hard can it be?
Taking just 10 deep breaths, at various times throughout the day, can have a massive positive impact on your wellbeing.
You can also try these two simple but effective breathing exercises, which can be done anytime, anywhere:
1. Inhale for a count of four and then exhale for a count of four (all through the nose). Try to do this for up to 10 minutes at a time. With practice you can aim for six to eight counts per breath. It will help to calm your nervous system, increase focus and reduce stress. This exercise is particularly good before going to sleep.
2. Close the eyes and focus on tensing and relaxing each muscle group. Starting with the feet and toes, then moving up to the knees, thighs, glutes, chest, arms, hands, neck, jaw, and eyes – at the same time as taking deep, slow breaths – breathing in through the nose, holding for a count of 5, while the muscles tense, then breathe out through the mouth on release for a count of 5.
These exercises can be done at home, at a desk, or even whilst driving but take care if you feel dizzy. Or if holding your breath ever feels uncomfortable, tone it down to just a few seconds.
You will never get into bad habits again once you’re aware of the benefits of stopping to breathe!
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