This post comes from wellness contributor Kristen Hedges.
I think we’ve all experienced our fair share of stress and anxiety. An aching head from too many tumbling thoughts, or a knot tied tight in your belly. It’s natural – after all, we humans have wildly full, emotional lives. For some, stress and anxiety can become drastically amplified over time, causing issues with both mind & body health.
There was a brief period of time in my life when I allowed anxiety to swallow me whole. I spent my days bathed in worry & doubled over in pain. Finally, after my yoga teacher training, I realized that there is one simple solution: Breath.
We can live an impressive length of time without food, and a handful of days without water. But without breath? A few minutes, at most. Our breath is woven through our emotions; connected to our overall health. It catches in our throat after a wonderful kiss, and shutters and stops when we’re afraid. It’s slow and beautiful when we’re laying out in a hammock on a long summer’s day.
Scientifically speaking, our breath is what triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response. When you’re breathing shallowly, quickly, up in the tip top of your lungs, the rest of your body assumes that you’re being chased by a lion (even if you’re only thumbing through overdue bills). The problem is that these days, we’re so disconnected that we’re often breathing shallowly all throughout the day. This can lead to increased anxiety, stress, & poor health overall.
Checking in with your breath is absolutely the first thing you should do when you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, anxious, etc. Stop what you’re doing. Sit down. Close your eyes. Maybe press your hand to your heart and steady yourself. Notice here: are you breathing shallowly? Is your breath catching in your ribs, your throat? Checking in will allow you the opportunity to focus in on the present moment & gently pull your mind from whatever it is that’s causing you pain.
Now… through your nose, inhale for 4 counts. Hold that breath in for 7 counts – at that time, pick a point to focus on, like the center of your heart, your forehead, your fingertips – and then exhale slowly through slightly parted lips for 8 counts.
Repeat this as many times as you’d like. Afterwards, take a break! Read a poem, a story, do yoga, stretch it out, paint a mandala. And if you don’t have much time to stop, drop & breathe, just keep it simple. Pause for a moment, wherever you are, and bring your hand to your heart. Close your eyes. Find your breath. Nod, and reboot.