August 17, 2023

How Deep Breathing & Meditation Finally Became my Life Preservers.

 

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By now, you probably have heard all the different ways that meditation and deep breathing can be beneficial for your mental health. Better yet, daily meditation and deep breathing practices.

For well over a decade, I had been trying to commit myself to such a practice due to depression and then later due to an escalating anxiety and panic disorder.

I tried the many different styles and methods of meditation out there as well as the various apps that can go along with those. As many as I could get my hands on really, especially if they were free or relatively inexpensive.

Single and childless, I had no excuse. It wasn’t like I had anything better or more pressing to do. I mean, seriously? How many more articles and firsthand accounts did I really need to prove this to myself?

It was almost like somewhere in my mind, some deep dark demon was completely in charge and would not allow me do the things that I just knew would help me feel better. You know, things like exercise, socializing, eating healthy non-processed food, therapy, and of course, meditation and deep breathing.

I mostly had the food part down being an avid nutrition researcher. Exercise was and continues to be one of my biggest foes. Socializing became harder the older I got. And therapy? Well therapy was definitely out of reach due to costs. So meditating was the one big thing that I knew if I could just figure out how to have the discipline, it could really help me. My anxiety had gotten so bad in recent years that just driving or being out in public could trigger a panic attack.

Fast-forward to the beginning of and during the pandemic. I still had a job, so the bills were paid. I had food in the fridge and a roof over my head. I was safe. I had the basics covered. I could even work from home, avoiding driving and people. I barely even had to leave the apartment. Still, nothing stuck for long.

Then, the county I worked in was supporting free memberships for the meditation app, Headspace. I figured why not? Go ahead and try yet another meditation app (especially since it was free). Slowly, I started pursuing the app. I enjoyed the layout and animations as well as the way former monk Andy Puddicombe spoke. His English accent had a calming effect on me. His method seemed to be one that my brain could work with. One where you observe the intrusive thoughts that inevitably enter and just let them go for the moment, bringing your attention back to the breath.

I still wasn’t meditating daily, but at least I was a little more engaged and interested in learning more. Another plus was that at some point, Headspace created a “Start your Day” layout and there was something soothing to me about the bubble changing to that little green checkmark. The first task of “Start your Day.” “Feel the Benefits of 5 Deep Breaths.”

In July of 2022, I somehow injured my neck and shoulder by doing nothing (thanks a lot middle age)! I found that I was fortunate enough that my health insurance covered acupuncture. In all my years of trying to manage my physical pain, I had never tried this technique for healing. It ended up helping tremendously and ultimately was the game changer for me because it was during one of the earliest sessions that I was introduced to the 4-7-8 breathing technique.

I had heard of this as well as box breathing before but had never given either a real chance. I hadn’t really thought about my breathing much before during yoga sessions or meditating, so I wasn’t sure what deep breathing could actually do for me. Well, it turns out quite a lot. The 4-7-8 technique helps to calm your nervous system and box breathing can actually calm your racing heart. Backed by science.

When my spiral would begin (aka panic attacks) instead of the usual panicking and looking for a safe place to lie down so I didn’t pass out, I started to remember to test the deep breathing technique, box breathing, and the 4-7-8 breathing technique to try and calm myself down.

I found that the more I did them, the more easily it became natural to remember utilizing during these times of panic. The more I did them, the faster the results. Instead of shaking hands and feeling like I was going to literally pass out, I was now able to calm myself before I even got to that point. By the way, I’ve done that before, passing out in public. It’s incredibly scary and humiliating. Especially when the fire department shows up.

Eventually, a series of the 4-7-8 breathing technique became a habit before bed. A nightly habit.

I started doing the quick “Feel the Benefits of 5 Deep Breaths” practice daily. Sixty seconds of deep breathing also became a habit. Every morning.

I acquired another app called Finch that helps me with day-to-day goals. One of those goals that I set for myself every day is “Deep Breathing” and another is “Meditation.” I am happy to report that I now do both every day and have for a little over a year. Daily meditation is also now a habit. Finally! I’m certain that this is for two reasons. The first is that I saw a real benefit and pretty quickly. The second is that I found out that I love apps where you can check off your daily goals!

I still fight against falling back into the rabbit hole of depression. I’ve learned and accepted that taking care of my mental health will be life-long, and that’s finally okay with me—mostly because I have two really good tools.

Deep breathing has become a life preserver for me in moments of panic when I am certain that this time I’m definitely going to drown. Depression is something that I have finally been able to live with and control through constant learning and now, thankfully, that daily meditation habit. I am happy to report and most of all relieved to say that my depression, anxiety, and panic attacks are something that I can control much more easily with these truly beneficial techniques. Turns out I was right all along—daily meditating really did help me to feel better.

What I learned along the way is that breathwork helped even more than I could have possibly imagined.

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