Hi. Are you stressed about something? Like, right now? What were you just thinking about? Was it something that you hope might happen, something that you're afraid might happen, or something you just said or did that wasn't quite "right"? Yeah, me too, usually. I was just thinking about the session I just had, wondering if I did a good job meeting that person's needs, if I focused on what was the most important part of the issue, if I looked stupid when I demonstrated that mindfulness technique.
Yes, that is how wild our minds are! I worried about how I shared a mindfulness technique. Rich with irony, I know. I can worry with the best of 'em. I've suffered from panic attacks and social anxiety and low self-esteem, and a lot of my clients do as well. So do some of my friends, and my mother I think, and maybe my bank teller, too.
Here's the thing about all this worrying and concern about the past and future - it's wearing us out. It's wearing down our nervous systems, which can sometimes lead to fatigue, insomnia, or panic attacks*, and it's messing with our attention and focus, which effects our work, our relationships, and our ability to pursue our passions.
Which brings me to the point of this blog post: BREATHE, people! The first thing and most simple, basic thing you can do RIGHT NOW is stop and focus on your breath. Is it shallow? Is it deep? Does only your chest move when you inhale, or does your belly expand, too? Does your chest feel tight or relaxed?
When you're breathing deeply and smoothly, you are calming down your biological stress systems, taking some of the pressure off your nervous system and mind for a hot minute. You are also getting in touch with yourself and maybe noticing how you're feeling or what's been on your mind, which has likely been running around unsupervised most of the day. A bonus is that choosing to take a moment to breathe is also choosing to take a moment to put yourself first and to send yourself the implicit message that you matter and you deserve care and to feel good.
There are so many techniques out there to help with breath, both secular and spiritual. You can find many guided meditations and breathing exercises on YouTube, for instance, not to mention books and classes and meditation centers. Yes, I'm writing about meditation and breathing exercises as synonymous here. Why? Because it all gets to the same point, and why split hairs? Explore some different methods and see what most appeals to you. Maybe you like something more spiritual to keep you focused, or maybe you want nothing to do with any of that business and you just want some ocean sounds and a timer. But take a little time and find what you seem to like, because you're more likely to do that thing.
One of my favorites is to lie on your back with your knees bent and feet resting on the floor. With your arms straight at your sides, at the start of your inhalation, lift your arms slowly from your sides and move them slowly and steadily, keeping them extended and straight, with your breath up and over you until, as your inhalation ends, your arms come to rest on the ground straight above your head (like a football referee indicating a field goal kick was good). Then, with the start of your exhalation, do the reverse, slowly bringing your hands back to rest down by your sides. Repeat this, following your breath. Ideally, you can keep your inhalations and exhalations of equal duration, perhaps inhaling for 8 counts, then exhaling for 8. Play with this for 2 minutes and see how you feel. Another perk of lying on your back is that you can more easily feel the movement of your torso with your breath. Even rest your hands on your chest and stomach and let your breath deepen as much as is comfortable.
Maybe you'll like this and maybe you'll think it's the stupidest thing ever. How you do it doesn't matter. What does matter is that you include breathing in your day. You might be surprised by how luxurious it feels to take a few minutes here and there and breathe deeply, feel alive, and notice yourself, wherever you are.
*As you know, I'm not a medical doctor. If you are experiencing any physical symptoms that are concerning, please go see a doctor! I'm only sharing what I know from my counseling work and what I believe to be true based on my training and experience as an LMFT.