Calming the Mind and Heart

It should be relatively obvious to anyone that our mental state can thoroughly effect our external appearance and actions.

When you’re tired, you’re not quite as quick to react. When you’re angry, your blood pressure rises. When you’re in a good mood, you smile.

What we often don’t realize quite as readily is that they way we make our body behave can have a distinct effect on our mental state.

One of the most direct routes to this body-mind connection I’ve seen (and experienced, and make use of) is breathing.

I am, by no means an expert on the physio-psychological connection between breathing and mental state. What I do know is that the breathing techniques I learned while taking some martial arts in college and from some books on meditation have helped me get anxiety, negative spirals, and near chronic giddiness (yes, being too happy can be a problem) under control.

Breathe Low, Not High

Far too often, you’ll find yourself breathing by expanding your chest and, perhaps, raising your shoulders. While common, it isn’t necessarily optimal for oxygen intake or the best way to relax.

Better breathing comes from using your diaphragm more thoroughly. When doing that, it’s your abdomen that should expand (as the diaphragm and lungs expand down as well as out). It makes better use of your full lung capacity and works different muscles–ones not often involved in our stress bearing habits (tense chest and shoulders? Probably stressed out.)

The Count

Frequently, when we panic or get otherwise worked up, the speed of our breathing increases. This triggers a host of other physiological things. Those things can cascade, loop around, and increase the amount we’re worked up.

To help get this under control, make use of an old trick we’ve all heard before: take a deep breath and count to ten.

The benefit here is two-fold. First, consciously taking control of your breathing and counting takes your mind off of what’s been bothering you, even if it is just for a moment. Second, that deep breath brings with it a rush of oxygen that replenishes what you’ve been keeping from your brain by the increased (and often shallow) breathing you’ve been doing.

It may not be a perfect solution, but it is a stop-gap that can give you the moment of clarity to implement another solution or extricate yourself from the stressful situation that triggered the panic.

Inhale, Hold, Exhale, Repeat

A close cousin to the ten count solution above, this takes things one step further by adding a repeating cycle.

This cycle not only gets your breathing under control and further distracts your mind from the problem that’s getting you all riled up, it helps train the body in proper breathing and gets more oxygen into your system.

Inhale for a solid four or five count. Hold it for a seven or eight count. Exhale slowly for another six or eight count.

After a repetition or three, your head should clear and you should feel a bit more lively.

Other Resources

A couple of quick articles with a little more information:

Try it out and let me know how the different breathing techniques work for you. Ever better, what do you do to help get your anxiety, anger, giddiness or whatever?

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