Your gain: Learn seven easy steps for being present and practicing breathing. This can help you decrease stress, anxiety, worry, and sadness both in the short and long term. It also is just a beautiful practice for leading a happy daily life!
Simply put, breathing exercises are surprisingly helpful. Everyone always says to take a breath (or three… or five) when you’re stressed or upset or fuming over something. Easy to say, not always easily done in the moment when you’re beside yourself.
Let’s Get Personal
Here’s a quick (very vulnerable) story from my journey of loss when breathing really helped me. I’ll try and keep it brief! But, if you’re struggling with anxiety from your losses or everything going around you, maybe we have something in common. If it doesn’t resonate, feel free to move on to the Method for Conscious Breathing section.
On a Sunday evening, John (my now husband) and I had just broken up. We just weren’t in a good place at the time, and the whole situation was pretty devastating. To avoid staying at our apartment that night (because hi, who really wants to be around their newly minted ex?), I drove to the condo where my dad lived, about 20 minutes away. His health had been declining already but, on that particular night, it was poor enough that I had to call an ambulance.
That had been the second time I had to call the ambulance for him. Unbeknownst to me, his prostate cancer had begun to spread to his back and brain. He not only wasn’t acting like himself, but he couldn’t get out of bed. I knew we had a major problem the minute I walked in. Really, I knew before that but subconsciously, I don’t even think I let my mind go there yet. There was no possible way I was on my way to losing my dad now. It was way too soon after losing my mom just five months prior. Watching medics wheel my sweet father into an ambulance, by myself, HIM by himself, literally coming off a break up just hours before… It was surreal. And it was too much.
Once they left and I watched the ambulance drive away, I was beside myself. I completely broke down. My god… I barely had time to grieve the loss of my mom, and here my dad is disintegrating physically and mentally before my eyes. Even if someone warns you about what you might experience, nothing, nothing prepares you for seeing a parent or loved one like that.
The Breath Work
I walked back inside and grabbed my mom’s box of ashes from the window sill, collapsed onto the living room floor, and cried some of the hardest, guttural tears I’ve ever cried in my life. It was a rock bottom I had never felt. An emptiness I never knew was possible, and my dad wasn’t even “gone” yet.
I could barely get control of my breathing. I’m grateful I’ve never had a panic attack, but this was probably the closest I had ever come to one. It took everything I had, every fiber in my body to not completely give in to the anxiety and despair. Clutching my mom’s ashes with some very shoddy self-talk and whatever powers that be, I got my breath under control by the method I’m about to share with you below. It was a truly horrific moment, frankly, but it passed. Anything, and I mean ANYTHING you’re going through right now will, too.
Method for Conscious Breathing
Most importantly, you want to find stillness and consciousness. The key is to 1) pay attention only to your breath, and 2) find a rhythm. I’ll give two methods here. One is more in-the-moment if something comes on very quickly and you need to find your breath. The second is more of a planned breathing exercise.
- Step 1: Move from shorter, quicker breaths to slow, deep ones.
- Step 2: Put one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart. On your belly, you should feel it rise and fall with each breath.
- Step 3: Draw in air through your nose for 4-5 counts. Let it go slowly for 4-5 counts through your mouth. Do this as many times as you need to find your sense of calm. Allow it to bring you back to the present moment.
- Step 1: Find a place to sit that feels calm, quiet, and free of negative energy.
- Step 2: Choose how long you’ll do your breath work for. This can be 5-10 minutes, but if you’re just getting started, opt for a shorter period of time for now.
- Step 3: Sit in a chair with your feet on the floor, sit loosely cross-legged, kneel, lay on your ground (my preference)—whatever feels good to you. The key is to make sure you feel stable and is a position you can stay in for a little while.
- Step 4: Follow and embrace the sensation of your breath. Breathe in through your nose for 4-5 counts, and breathe out through your mouth for 4-5 counts.
- Step 5: Acknowledge when your mind is wandering. It’s inevitable, so when you notice this, just continue returning your attention to your breath.
- Step 6: Most importantly, don’t judge yourself over the subject matter of your thoughts or if you continue to get lost. Just come back again and again and, with practice, this will become less and less frequent.
Meditation is another invaluable tool I use to keep calm and set myself up for success for the day mentally. Good breath work is directly related to practicing meditation, so I put together a post on why I encourage everyone to try meditating even just a few minutes a day. Check that out below! It’s all about consistency and practice.
It’s all about returning your attention again and again to the present moment. No matter how many times it takes you, don’t worry about it. Just bring it back. Our minds can so easily and frequently get carried away in thought. Using our breath and the present can anchor us. And, the more times we do this breath work, the more we reinforce our ability to do it again and again.