Have you ever noticed what happens to your breath when you’re scared, anxious, or excited? For me, I notice that I either forget to breathe altogether or I start taking quick, shallow breaths. And let me tell you, this does not help to calm me down. Rapid breathing is part of the “fight or flight” response (also known as the stress response). This is the body’s reaction to perceived danger, directed by the sympathetic nervous system.
For many trauma survivors, the fight or flight response is hyperactive, constantly provoked by day-to-day events and minor stressors. As you can imagine, problems arise when the body responds to minor stressors, like a disagreement with a friend, in the same way it would if your life is in danger. It’s no wonder you’re exhausted! Your body is working overtime!
So, what can you do to give your body a break? It’s simple: deep breathing. As cliché as it may sound, deep breathing is scientifically proven to activate the parasympathetic nervous system – the one that calms us down.
I’ve tried several hundreds of breathing exercises over the years, with varied success. I find that I reap the most benefit from this practice when I have no choice but to be fully aware of my breath. One of my yoga teachers repeats this helpful mantra in her class: “Breathe in, I know I’m breathing in… Breathe out, I know I’m breathing out.” The statement “I know I’m breathing in” forces me to focus exclusively on what my body is doing - breathing - instead of thinking about my to-do list or what I plan to eat for breakfast.
Take a few minutes and try it today! Repeat the mantra to yourself a few times and follow the words with your breath. Breathe in, I know I’m breathing in… Breathe out, I know I’m breathing out… Breathe in, I know I’m breathing in… Breathe out, I know I’m breathing out… Breathe in, I know I’m breathing in… Breathe out, I know I’m breathing out… How does it feel?
For many people, deep breathing feels awkward at first. But, with practice, it starts to feel like a more natural response to stressful situations. Another great thing? You can literally do this anywhere. Need a quick break from work? Head to the bathroom or outside the building and just breathe for a few minutes. I guarantee you’ll feel calmer when you head back to your desk.
Ready to schedule your first session? Please contact me to discuss treatment options, fees, and insurance coverage.