Don’t Forget to Breathe
Breathing is one of our most automatic functions, something we literally do without thinking about it. But breathing only on autopilot isn’t ideal, especially for people suffering from stress or anxiety, who often experience shallow breathing. In fact, taking in minimal amounts of air, never exhaling fully, and breathing at a rapid pace are both symptoms and causes of stress and anxiety — it’s an unending cycle.
Fortunately, paying attention to the breath can help break the cycle. Making a point to breathe slowly and deeply counters feelings of stress and anxiety. It lowers the heart rate and opens the blood vessels, taking the body and mind out of the fight-or-flight state that can become the norm for people who are chronically stressed or anxious.
One of the easiest ways to start breathing more mindfully is to practice first thing in the morning and last thing at night. After getting into bed at night, lie comfortably on your back, and take three slow, deep breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. In the morning, instead of flying out of bed in a frenzy, take a minute to repeat the exercise before getting up. Starting and ending the day with conscious breathing is an excellent way to bookend the day with a relaxed state.
To carry more of that feeling throughout the day, try to notice your breathing at other times, too. It can be easiest to create the habit by checking in with the breath right after certain activities — for instance, after getting into your car or on the bus, or after finishing a meal or snack. To take it even further, try taking one nice, deep breath whenever you move from standing to sitting — each time you walk into the office and sit down at your desk, for example.
Developing the habit of stopping and taking notice of the breath throughout the day can help to break the pattern of shallow breathing and get us out of the constant fight-or-flight state that causes more anxiety.