Everyone knows how important breathing is to the body. In an emergency, we can go weeks without food and several days without water or sleep. We won't be in the best of health, but it is possible to survive without these necessities in a pinch. However, anyone who goes more than a few seconds without breathing begins to feel incredibly uncomfortable!
Breathing is central to the way the body processes energy, for a start. Oxygen processed by the lungs is used to release energy from stored cells, just like it releases heat energy in the form of fire. This is why we find ourselves breathing faster in a crisis -- our body senses that we might need energy quickly and is stepping up production.
Knowing this, we can turn breathing from something that just happens automatically into a powerful, stress-controlling habit that allows us to regulate the way our body processes its energy. By focusing and steadying our breathing to a slower, more reasonable pace, we reduce the rush of energy we're experiencing and bring our emotions more under control. For those of us looking to reduce stress in our lives, following are a few tips on how to make breathing into a life-affirming habit.
Tip #1 - Practice!
Breathing is largely an automatic system, making the idea of practicing seem a bit odd at first. However, all habits take some time to fit into our lives. For example, consider our S.T.O.P. method: It has a very specific purpose, but it can be awkward the first few times we use it. However, by using it and practicing it whenever we can, we soon find it becoming second nature.
As with all important habits, timing is key. Schedule a specific time of the day that you will practice your breathing. It doesn't have to be a long period, any specific time set aside becomes cemented in the mind with only a few repetitions. The key is to make it the same time every day, to help mold the habit into the flow of your life.
Tip #2 - Go Slow
As we said earlier, breathing quickly releases more energy. Nervous energy is a big part of negative stress, so take advantage of slowing your breathing to help control it.
During your exercise time, take a moment to lie down. Start small, with an easy step that you can manage. Breathe in, counting to three as you do, and then exhale for three seconds as well. Continue doing this until it feels comfortable and natural, and then gradually increase the time by three seconds. Never force it, if you feel that six or nine seconds is too long, go back to a smaller interval. As with all habits, shocking your body is not the way to do it -- give yourself time to adjust and adapt.
Tip #3 - Use the S.T.O.P. Method
In another article, we discuss the S.T.O.P. method of controlling negative emotions. There is a wonderful opportunity to combine the S.T.O.P. method and breathing control into the same process, helping reinforce each habit with the other. Habits are strongest when they're part of an integrated system, rather than standing on their own.
So, when negative thoughts come to mind and you reach for the S.T.O.P. process, take a slow, measured breath as well. Breathe in slowly, and exhale slowly, repeating several times to relax yourself. Your feelings of calm and relaxation will make the S.T.O.P. method more effective, and the S.T.O.P. instinct will remind you that breathing is important as well.
Tip #4 - Be Observant
Taking time to control your breathing every day is important, but equally important is observing how stress affects your breathing, and vice versa.
Throughout your day, take a few seconds here and there to see how your breathing compares between different events. Do you breathe differently at the beginning of the day compared to the end? How did the big surprise project that came up at work affect your breathing rhythm? How much did using a breath control technique help you cope with sudden changes? Knowing little things like this can help you adjust your breathing exercises for the maximum effect that you need.
Tip #5 - Take a Breather... Literally
You don't need to reserve breath control methods for crisis situations. Yes, breath control is a valuable tool in these events, and can help you calm down. Conversely, it can also help you perk up and get the lift you need when you feel overwhelmed.
If you're in the middle of a big project, but have a few seconds to take a break, remember to work a short breathing exercise into the moment. It doesn't have to be long, simply give yourself one minute to practice breathing in and out in short, measured pulses. This will help you moderate and control the energy you're using and will relieve that 'long grind' tension that can come with a tough work day.
Above all, take every opportunity to practice that you can find. Stick to one five-minute breathing workout per day, but also find time to stop, take a steadying breath and then continue on when you can. The extra effort will make the 30 days it takes to solidify this habit seem to breeze right by.