My Most Effective Tool For Calm
Without a doubt, having a toolbox of strategies to support my mental wellbeing has helped me stay calm and well. From meditation to food, gardening to poetry and everything in-between. But there is one tool that rises above the rest when I need instant calm.
Summer’s nearly over, and many of us are back at our desks and lamenting the end of lazy sunshiney days. Or not. Actually, I find holidays away can be more stressful than my regular life at home.
Whether lying on a white sandy beach or diving in crystal clear waters, anxiety can still be present alongside the sunscreen and the Piña colada. And sometimes even heightened.
In fact, the pressure to have an especially good time on holiday can actually worsen stress levels. There may be a mismatch between our expectations and the reality of our vacationing experience. So I’ve found it helpful to draw less of a distinction between time off and being at work. Holidays can be less hard work, and hard work can feel more like a holiday, if I stay calm and centred wherever I am. And the most effective tool I use to remain so is by becoming more aware of how I breathe.
You might think this sounds simple, but maybe that’s why it works so well. I can use breathing exercises anytime and anywhere, whether on the beach or at my desk. My favourite breathing technique is Belly Breathing, which I use about six to seven times a day. It is so called as it involves breathing deep into your stomach, and becoming aware of the rise and fall of your diaphragm as you do so. I’ve found it among the easiest breathing techniques to master, perhaps because gently breathing deeply in this way is what we do naturally as babies. We have actually learnt to breathe in a shallower, more stressful way as adults.
The exercise involves breathing through your nose rather than your mouth. Exhalation is linked to the body’s relaxation system. By breathing like this we slow our heartbeat, stabilise or lower our blood pressure and increase our oxygen intake.
Many of us might not notice that we take shallow breaths most of the time, which can cause tension in our chests, a common symptom of anxiety. Not only can belly breathing release this tension, but the exercise also serves as an anchor to the present moment. You can only breathe now, not yesterday or tomorrow. So often we regret the past or worry about the future.
Lastly, and perhaps best of all, taking some time to belly breathe creates space to clear your mind. Try and stick to using uneven numbers when inhaling and exhaling, so that you are less likely to fall into an easy rhythm. This is important because it is best to concentrate on your breathing, rather than switching into a rhythm and letting your mind and its worries take over again.
I talk through my Belly Breathing in this short video, and here’s a quick run-down.
Belly Breathe by remembering to:
Breathe in through your nose.
You choose how long you’d like your in breath to be (I like 7 seconds).
Breathe deep into your stomach.
Becoming aware of the rise and fall of your diaphragm – if you like, use a book on your stomach as a marker for movement.
Make your out breath longer than your in breath.
Getting rid of any excess CO2 to calm the nervous system (I like 11 seconds).
All in all, my summer has been full of love, laughs and plenty of sunshine. But one of the most comforting parts of my time this summer was knowing that I could soothe myself using my wellbeing tools wherever I was in the world.
I hope you find Belly Breathing as helpful as I do.