Even as we feel gratitude for a life that is so filled with convenience (indoor plumbing, the ability to communicate globally with email, text and voice from a small phone) we can often feel overwhelmed with fear or anxiety about our lives. Our demanding job; or our lack of a job. Our difficult relationships, or our lack of relationships. In a word: STRESS! It may not seem this way, but stress is created by us, with our thoughts. We use our minds to think about the future (a meeting this afternoon, 10 years from now when we want to retire, but might not have enough money) or we use our minds to think about the past (the argument that we had with our boss yesterday; the time our best friend betrayed us when we were at summer camp).
None of the things in the past or the future are the truth of our current moment. They are just thoughts and we are using them to create a reality that is filled with judgment, fear, anger and lack. Don’t go there! Or, if you are there, try the breath technique below to come back to the present:
Rhythmic, or controlled breathing is quick and easy. Benefits include: decreased blood pressure, increased relaxation and improved mental focus. This is the quickest way to direct our minds to the current moment; and to turn off the fight, flight or freeze response that is activated by perceived threats.
Sit or stand comfortably, choosing a place where you won’t be interrupted. If possible, close your eyes. Focus on your breath. Take a deep breath into your lungs and especially down into your abdomen, allowing it to expand on the inhale and fall on the exhale. Now we are going to breath with ordinary breath in this way: [Throughout this exercise, breathe through your nose for the best results.] You will be using the same length of time for each of the 4 steps and the easiest way to do this is to count (1..2..3..4) using the same numbers at the same pace. For many people, counting to 4 feels right, for others a more comfortable length of time is counting to 6; or counting to 3. Notice what is most comfortable for you and make adjustments. Through your nose inhale (1..2..3….); Hold your breath IN (1..2..3…); Exhale (1..2..3…); Hold your breath OUT (1..2..3…) and repeat. Repeat this cycle multiple times. You will notice yourself becoming calm in your body and in your mind. Do not allow your mind to wander, stay focused on the count and breathing through your nose.
Taking a moment to focus on our breath creates improved mental, emotional functioning and improves our physical health. It is free, easy and quick and is exactly what we need to bring our thoughts back to productive, effective responses in this moment.