You breathe in and out. The most normal thing in the world. Except it isn’t. You labour with it, struggle and gasp. The air rasps in and out quickly, reaching the tips of your lungs and rushing out again, like it couldn’t spend a moment longer in your body. You don’t blame it. You don’t want to spend a moment longer in your body either.
If you have panic attacks you will know what this experience is like. When the body reacts to perceived danger with a fight or flight response it sends blood rushing around the body, making you feel like you could explode with the negative energy. Your breathing will become quick, in a desperate attempt to get fuel into the body parts that will help you fight or flee. Stress causes fight or flight responses to be triggered rapidly at the slightest hint of danger. A usually fleeting thought will trigger the anxiety response. Once the response is triggered it stays in a negative feedback loop, playing over and over in your brain all the while being reinforced by the attention you pay it. The thought would usually sweep past and you may think “that was strange” and get on with what you are doing. If you are in a state of stress, you grab that little gem of a thought and hold it so tightly that other little thoughts sprout out of it too, squeezing negativity all of the place. Once a negative thought has sprouted roots, you will notice weeds all over the garden in your mind. If you pay attention to the tiny, strangled flowers among the weeds, they will be the ones that grow. To do this, you need to allow the unhelpful thoughts to float past, noticing them with interest and grab onto the positive thoughts. Mindfulness of the beautiful little things in life will help here but this is a whole other post! In a nutshell, negativity feeds negativity. There’s lots of great science behind this, I won’t bother your stressed minds with it…if you are interested please contact me.
Breathing is the very best thing you can do to cope with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. It deactivates the fight or flight response and calms the nervous system. It helps you while you are stressed but better still, it helps to heighten your stress threshold so that it takes more for you to become stressed in the first place. If you practice daily belly breathing while you are calm you will become more relaxed so that triggering stress is harder and small things won’t rattle you. The mind can’t tell the difference between real danger and the perception of danger, the kind of “danger” that our mind warns us about, whether or not it is likely to happen. It will react the same if you have a fight with a friend as it does if you simply think about having a fight with a friend! Your heart will race, your head will feel like it is going to explode, you may feel hot and clammy, you may feel a big lump in your throat, your body will feel yucky. When you realise that your body is in fight or flight because of a thought, a memory or a prediction about the future that hasn’t even happened yet, you can use breathing to calm your body down.
Do this once a day for at least five minutes when you are calm and then also use it when you are feeling stressed. The kind of breathing that helps the fight or flight response is belly breathing. Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. When you breathe in, your belly should fill up and push your hand out. The hand on your chest should not move.
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