By Joan Marlow —
Has this ever happened to you? Everywhere you turn there’s DRAMA …mom and dad are fighting again, your teacher has unrealistic expectations for a project you’re working on, your friends are taking risks that are making you uncomfortable, your boyfriend appears to be pulling away!!! Your body and brain are saying ‘ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!’ You feel like your head is going to blow off your shoulders, you desperately want to scream, run away or throw something; or you simply want to shut down and cop out….
But before you REACT in what might be a negative way that has a long-term impact on you and others around you, STOP and Just B-R-E-A-T-H-E….
Yeah, that’s right….simply stand still and ‘Just B-R-E-A-T-H-E’ deeply into your belly…hold it and let it go slowly. Repeat the inhale through the nose, this time feeling your belly expand…hold it a bit longer…and then let it go through your mouth oh so slowly and completely. Do it a 3rd time!! Breathe in, hold it, and then squeeze every little bit of air out of your lungs through your mouth as if you were squeezing a balloon.
Return to your normal breath and NOTICE how you feel.
WHAT DID YOU NOTICE???
Are you feeling calmer? Did your shoulders relax (sometimes referred to as ‘lowering your shoulder earrings’)? Are hands and jaw unclenched? Has your mind quieted down? Can you think more clearly? Did you find yourself smiling? Did you have to shake your head a bit to bring yourself back to your ‘normal’ awareness?
Congratulations!!! You have literally reset your nervous system to a ‘Rest and Digest’ mode vs. ‘high-alert’ mode. You can now engage your brain to RESPOND intelligently and calmly. You can now more readily think and act reasonably and responsibly. You might not have all the answers, but you can now call upon your common sense, you can pull from what you know as being true and accurate, and utilize your trusted resources (yourself, a teacher, or possibly a trusted friend) to best resolve life situations facing you. I sometimes think of this conscious breathing exercise as giving yourself a ‘time out’ to gather your senses and to save you from doing or saying something that might not be the smartest thing.
Our bodies are amazing!!
Here are the details of what happened during that 30-second conscious breathing exercise in ‘mindfulness:’
YOU and the power of your brain reset your autonomic nervous system to a
‘rest and digest’ mode vs. ‘high-alert’ mode simply with your breath.
Here’s what happened: High-alert mode puts your body into fight, flight, freeze mode during which your adrenals (glands that rest on top of your kidneys) are sending cortisol and adrenaline into our body to ‘protect’ you. Protect you from what you might ask? Protect you from ‘real’ or ‘imaginary’ threats to your safety. This built-in protection system is what has kept our human species alive. It kept cavemen safe from saber tooth tigers and it keeps us safe from physical harm as well as from our actions of doing or saying something while we are ‘blinded by life’s dramas’ or in overwhelm mode (modern day saber tooth tigers). It takes away our ability to use common sense and logic, which might contribute to a negative outcome in a situation that can result in harm to you or to others. It takes the power from our brain and puts that power in our arms and legs so we can run, fight, or stand perfectly still…frozen is place, which are the self-protection choices when facing that current saber tooth tiger.…this is how a mom finds the super-human strength to actually lift a car off of her child or how a firefighter can run into a burning building.
Typically we humans run on ‘auto-pilot’ every minute of every day. We’re thankful that we don’t have to think about swallowing or blinking our eyes or making sure our blood is pumping through our bodies…that’s all happening behind the scene. However, when we face something that’s dangerous to us (like hearing our mom and dad fighting again or catching ourselves to avoid falling after we’ve tripped) our bodies react as if we were facing a saber tooth tiger, it goes into ‘high alert’ to protect us.
Our bodies don’t know the difference if hearing someone yell is going to hurt us or if it’s a memory that yelling translates into a past experience of being hurt. To bring us back to reality, we engage our consciousness (the 3 deep conscious breaths) to shut out the ‘imaginary’ tigers, which in turn shuts down the adrenaline and cortisol (bad hormones over time) and replaces them with calming (good) hormones like serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine. AHHHH…doesn’t that feel better?
One way we can turn off the ‘bad’ hormones and turn on the ‘good’ hormones when life is coming at you too fast or you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed, is through ‘consciously’ breathing in that moment. Better yet, stopping a few times a day to ‘consciously breathe’ is an excellent habit to keep you in a safe zone to think clearly and create calm so you’re better prepared for ‘life.’
The act of breathing is on auto-pilot, as is our digestive, nervous, circulatory, and other bodily systems that bring us life. Our body blueprint has made it easy for us to live. However, the great minds in medicine tell us that living involves stress and stress is causing ‘dis-ease’ (disease or imbalance) in our bodies. Too much of this ‘dis-ease’ might well present itself as an ulcer, suppressed immune system, habits that over time don’t serve us well (over-eating or not eating, sleeping too much or too little), angry outbursts, etc.
By ‘consciously’ breathing we engage our brain to focus on the act (and art) of breathing. This focused action is very healthful and helpful to our overall well-being in that moment. It calms and relaxes us, resets our attitude, helps us sleep, or helps us be more alert. It also supports the growth of new brain cells (neuroplasticity) for long-term positive brain health.
Our brain is designed to always be ‘doing/thinking’ something.
If you’re thinking negatively about yourself or someone else, once you realize that you’re doing that, ‘STOP’ and ‘Just BREATHE consciously’ for a couple of breaths to reset your brain.
PRACTICE MAKES PERMANENT
How about considering creating the good habit of ‘consciously breathing’ to reset your nervous system to calm starting today? To create a habit, we do things repeatedly. Try this: put 3 elastic bands on one wrist with the goal being at the end of the day you will have the 3 elastic bands will be on the other wrist and be far more relaxed. Three times a day go through the steps of
- Stopping (physically stop, and don’t forget to put down your phone);
- Taking a deep breath, holding and releasing it; and then
- Noticing how good that action makes you feel;
- Lastly move an elastic band to the other wrist.
Easy enough!!! Don’t forget to smile and thank yourself for taking this minute to take care of YOU!! By the end of the day the 3 elastic bands will be on the other wrist and you’ll be calm and alert. Continue to smile because you’re well on your way to creating a habit to de-stress and take charge of your life, health and well-being. You are well on your way to being able to keep yourself safe from those saber tooth tigers that pop up in your life. Always remember to Just B-R-E-A-T-H-E….