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Overwhelmed, sleep-deprived, and burned-out?
With hectic schedules, pressure to check things off a never-ending to-do list, and the belief that we must put our own self-care last on that list, it’s no wonder we get to feeling so stressed.
As a busy mom, teacher, and as a person who tends to naturally try to run at full throttle all day (must. do. all. the. things), I have experienced this tight, tired but wired feeling many times over the years.
It can seem as if there’s no time to slow down. Fortunately, there are breathing exercises that can help calm your mind and body, reduce anxiety, activate your brain’s “rest and digest” mode, and help relieve stress and anxiety. I have found breathing exercises to be a fantastic way to ease that tight feeling, and practice them regularly whenever I start to feel my heart racing, and body tensing in a reaction that I know is stress and burn-out heading my way.
I am so passionate about sharing breathing strategies because they are easy to do, don’t require anyone else to know what you are doing, and they work quickly.
Here are three ways you can work with your breath to feel more peaceful in just 10 minutes or less:
Equal Breathing (4-to-4):
This breath is incredibly balancing for the mind and body. It can be used any time of day or night, whenever you need to take your mind off ruminating thoughts, or calm a racing mind.
Sit or lay down in a comfortable position. Eyes can be opened or closed. Breathing through your nose (if at all possible), inhale for a count of four, then exhale for a count of four. Repeat.
If doing this one at night in bed, try starting on your back. Do equal breathing four times. Rotate to your right side and do equal breathing eight times, then roll onto your left side and repeat another eight times.
Also called diaphragmatic breathing, or abdominal breathing, this technique helps you use the large, dome-shaped muscle just below your lungs to let you breathe more efficiently. It helps expand the lungs, allowing you to decrease the effort it takes to breathe, slows your breathing rate, and relaxes your nervous system.
If you are feeling stressed all the time, it may be difficult to breathe slowly at first. The diaphragm is a muscle, and it needs a little strengthening, too. Keep practicing and it eventually becomes easier.
To really feel this best, try it lying down first. Once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to do in any position.
Place one hand on your belly, and one on your chest so you can feel the movement. Breathing in slowly through your nose, fill up your belly and feel it rise. Exhale, letting your stomach fall gently, using the muscles to press the air all the way out.
When we are experiencing acute anxiety, panic, or stress, we tend to breathe in short, shallow little sips of air. This keeps our nervous system locked into the “fight, flight, or freeze” mode. One way to stop this cycle is to increase your exhale. Placing your focus on the exhale activates your relaxation response quickly.
To start, try this with counts of three, six, and six, then advancing to four, eight, and eight.
Begin by inhaling for three counts (up one side of the triangle), holding your breath as you trace across one side for six counts, then exhale slowly for six counts as you trace your triangle back to the start.
This exercise is relaxing to the nervous system, so use with caution if you are driving or working with machinery. Seriously, though.
After trying these breathing exercises, as you feel your body starting to relax and release some tension, bring your breathing back to a natural rhythm again. Pause and notice now how you feel.
Can you feel less tension in your shoulders? In your jaw? Is your mind calmer? Do you feel more at ease? Does your natural breath feel easier or slower?
Breathing exercises are powerful tools for your health and well-being toolbox. They can help you return to a state that feels more comfortable for your body and mind so you can get back to doing the things that make you feel more like you.
Tell me in the comments below, which exercises did you find the most helpful? Is there one you will return to again?