There is a tried and true; one size fits all approach to solve all life problems. There is not a cost to purchase this amazing solution; yep, it’s free 99. The costs associated with not having and utilizing this gem, however, can be deadly, literally. Best of all, this thing is not difficult to find or access; in fact, you have it already, and it’s always at your disposal, as long as you have life in your body. If you haven’t guessed it already, it’s your breath. Dress it up as you may, but your breath is more than just the thing that goes before you to greet others (whether politely or harshly) or the life-sustaining function of your body’s respiratory system. Your breath, and the control of it, can help to change your outlook at any moment, on-demand.
I’m not a medical practitioner and don’t claim to know all of the benefits of breathing to the body, but I do happen to know a thing or two about the positive impact that controlled breathing has on one’s mental wellbeing. Naturally, our bodies respond to stressors in at least one of three ways: flight, fight or freeze. Whether the stressor is a pit bull chasing you through the neighborhood, or it’s your caller ID displaying that your boss is calling you on your off day during termination season, your body will instinctively respond in a way that gives you the best chance at survival, be it fight, flight or freeze. Yes, even your tendency to get defensive or argumentative with your significant other at the first sign of their fixing their lips to utter a word of response, is in fact, your instincts helping you to protect yourself. In matters of mental health, however, the end does not always justify the means and very rarely does when there are no controls in place.
Where does breathing come in? Breathing allows you to snatch the remote controller from the hands of your body’s instincts and helps your mind rationalize the situation to more appropriately use logic to address the issue at hand or to change the channel simply. In essence, when properly trained, your breathing can be your own personal Sherlock Holmes or Mike Lowery, there to support you in solving any mystery that arises or to help you keep your cool in the face of trouble. Because many of us commit very little time to monitor our breathing, save for athletes or those who may be asthmatic, we often forfeit opportunities to experience the serenity that deep, rhythmic breathing can have, even amid chaos. In a moment of mental distress, exercising controlled breathing can stabilize as a brown paper bag to a hyperventilating person.
So the next time you find yourself becoming overwhelmed while experiencing a situation, or even at the thought of a problem, try inhaling through your nose for a five (5) second count then exhaling through your mouth for five (5) seconds repetitively for two (2) minutes and find yourself calmer, mentally relaxed and better poised to address the immediate thought or situation at hand. Breathe.
Michael Dangerfield, LPC, NCC