Feeling stressed, trapped, panicked or overwhelmed? Give deep breathing a try.

Life is hard. We’ve all heard that, and probably all know that sentiment well.  As I “grow up” and learn to be more independent, I’ve realized that there isn’t going to be a magic age where I’ll suddenly have everything in order. Life isn’t linear in a sense that once you go to point A, B and C and then arrive to point D it’s going to be smooth sailing.

For example, I thought once I graduated college and landed my first job, I’d have things figured out. I thought I wouldn’t be stressed out anymore, because I wouldn’t have to worry about tests or papers. I thought I’d go to work every day, leave work (and leave work at work), then meet up with friends after. Turns out, in my customer-facing job I socialize all day and often don’t have energy to do anything after work other than go to the grocery store or make dinner.

I’ll leave work but end up thinking about how I solved a certain issue and how I could have handled it differently, or wonder about what’s next and where I’ll be in five years.

I’ve learned that life doesn’t stop giving you challenges. There will always be an obstacle in our path or puzzle that we need to solve.  Though we may not be taking written tests, we’re still being tested. Earlier this year when work started getting busy and I wasn’t making enough time for myself, I started to really suffer from stress. I felt panicked, trapped, and overwhelmed.

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How Deep Breathing Changed My Life

I started making changes in my life. The biggest thing I did for myself was to find someone I trusted to talk to instead of bottling in my anxiety. Then, I started trying to be more mindful of my thoughts and my actions, and to be more present. I started reading Dan Harris’ book 10% Happier and found some new perspective about meditation, mindfulness, and being present in the moment and with your emotions. If you can, I highly recommend picking up a copy. Or, check out his talk he gave at Google, which has been posted on YouTube.

What I’ve really taken away from this process is the importance of taking deep breaths. When I start feeling really stressed, I take a deep breath, and I mean deep-belly-protruding-chest-expanding breaths that I hold for a second and slowly release and exhale through my mouth. That whole “in through your nose, out through your mouth” trick works for things other than running, it turns out! I found that taking these breaths helped me focus on just one thing: my breathing.

For those few seconds, I stop stressing about my workload, my performance at work, or thinking about all of things I’ve been wanting to do but haven’t gotten to yet. My thoughts calm down and I just listen to my breathing and count seconds in my head. Getting oxygen to the brain is important (obviously) but sometimes when we’re stressed or anxious we take short, panting breaths that can actually cause us to feel light-headed and more anxious. Quieting our minds through mindful breathing  can helps us to re-focus and approach the task at hand from a different angle.

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How Deep Breathing Can Change Your Life

If you’re in the same boat as me, sailing on the stress-sea (sorry, I couldn’t help myself), then try taking deep breaths. If you’re in a place where you can sit down, find a spot and plant your feet firmly on the floor, with your back straight. Close your eyes. Then, slowly, take a breath through your nose, letting your belly expand and then your chest and fill up your diaphragm. As you breathe in, don’t let yourself think about anything other than that moment of taking a breath. Listen to the sound of yourself breathing and taking in air. If you need to, you can even think to yourself “breathe in, breathe out” as you practice this. After a second or two, slowly exhale through your mouth. Then repeat.

Practicing deep breathing won’t fix all of your problems, but it will give you space to calm down and cope with the situation at hand.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional of any sort and have had no training. I just practiced this with a counselor and then did some research on my own. If you have any health issues, it may be best to check with your doctor and map out a stress-relief plan that works best for you.


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