One Simple Hack to Calm Down, Right Now

Breathing. Fun stuff, right? Lots of perks to breathing. I, for one, like how it keeps me alive.

But wait, there’s more! Not only does breathing keep us alive, it can be used as a tool to help us keep our composure in situations where we would otherwise rather be pulling someone’s hair out, and I think that’s pretty important, too.

I’ve been in situations where I’ve become irrationally angry, or overwhelmed and on the verge of a panic attack, and with practice I’ve been able to become more self-aware, and to listen to the signals my body is sending me. Once I recognize those feelings, or common triggers of those feelings, my first go-to strategy is to slowly, deeply, and mindfully breathe.

When we breathe quickly, or hyperventilate, our bodies respond accordingly. Our heart beats faster, and we can even become more stressed. The tough part about this is that feelings of anxiety, depression, stress, and anger are triggers for rapid breathing. It can get you stuck in a cycle of panic. The stress prompts the body’s response, which in turn can amplify the stress. The key to breaking this cycle is to be AWARE of your body when you feel this happening, and that takes practice.

I would suggest starting your practice while you are in a calm, neutral environment. Kind of like a “fire drill”, so that when the time actually comes, you’re ready.

The main focus when you are breathing is speed. I went on a mindfulness retreat at a Buddhist monastery last year, and they taught us to exhale twice as long as we inhale. So for example, if I inhale for 2 seconds, then I would exhale for 4. If I inhaled for 3 seconds, I would exhale for 6, and so on. Counting down the seconds in your head while you’re breathing might increase the calming effects as well.

Sometimes, I’ll practice deep breathing, but I will find my mind still racing. During those times, I like to visualize my breath traveling through my nose, down my throat, into my lungs, and then slowly and gently back up my throat and out of my mouth. Breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth also helps you stay in touch with the present moment. It’s a pattern of breathing that you probably don’t do naturally throughout the day, so it wakes up your brain and influences it to focus.

With kiddos, I like to help facilitate deep breathing by incorporating the element of fun. I’ll blow bubbles with them, or I’ll use my hand as a “bug” that crawls across a surface and encourage the kiddos to “blow him away!!!” (that one always gets laughs). I’ll even lay down on the floor with them, facing up, and practice keeping feathers floating in the air.

Deep breathing is one of my favorite strategies, because it’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s always close at hand…close at…lung? I don’t know. You know what I mean.

It may take a while to get the hang of it, and to be able to use it successfully, but like all great things, practice makes perfect. Happy breathing!

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