By: Kathy Hubbard
You’re running late. Your phone is ringing, and you can’t find it. Something you desperately need is upstairs while you’re downstairs. You erroneously thought you had enough ribbon to wrap all the gifts. Your favorite football team is down three points with 30 seconds left in the game. Whatever the reason, ‘tis the season for stress.
Positive Psychology says, “When we feel anxious, our body is getting ready to run away or stand up and fight. In anticipation of urgent action and a need for extra oxygen, we start taking in more air. If we are not being active, we take in more air than we need and exhale more carbon dioxide than we produce.”
They also say that over breathing can cause symptoms that add to our stress including a pounding heart; lightheadedness or dizziness; muscle tension; agitation and restlessness; nausea or “butterflies” in the stomach; difficulty concentrating and making good decisions; trouble regulating emotions and, feelings of disconnectedness from our body and environment.
Harvard Health says that “when appropriately invoked, the ‘fight or flight’ stress response helps us rise to many challenges. But trouble starts when this response is constantly provoked by less momentous, day-to-day events.”
That “trouble” may be health issues. “A prime example is high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease. The stress response also suppresses the immune system, increasing susceptibility to colds and other illnesses. Moreover, the buildup of stress can contribute to anxiety and depression. We can’t avoid all sources of stress in our lives, nor would we want to. But we can develop healthier ways of responding to them.” Harvard says.
One way to do this is to learn some breathing techniques. The internet is full of suggestions. Let’s start with Positive Psychology’s explanation about our two options for breathing: the nose and mouth.
“While they are both effective ways of gaining vital oxygen into the body, they are not equal. Nasal breathing kills bacteria and viruses and relaxes the blood vessels in the respiratory tract, allowing more oxygen to pass into the blood. Not only that, but the nose allows us to draw more oxygen from our environment than mouth breathing (up to 20% more), improves sleep, reduces tooth decay, and encourages learning.”
WebMD suggests a simple exercise: “Take a deep breath in. Now let it out. You may notice a difference in how you feel already. Many breathing exercises take only a few minutes. When you have more time, you can do them for ten minutes or more to get even greater benefits.”
I suggest you take that deep breath, exhale, and then find a quiet, comfortable place to sit. This is just a quick timeout, but if there’s something on the stove, I recommend turning it off for the few moments it will take.
Now that you’re sitting in a chair, close your eyes and feel the sensation of your body’s contact with the chair and your feet on the floor. Focus on inhaling with the air coming in your nose and your chest and stomach rising. Gently exhale while noticing the sensation of your chest and stomach falling.
Positive Psychology says, “Notice and acknowledge thoughts, emotions, and sensations accompanying each breath without engaging, letting them pass with kindness and compassion. If your mind wanders, gently return your focus to each breath – just as it is. Repeat for as long as you wish.”
There are other exercises, many that include counting while breathing in, holding your breath, and then counting as you breathe out. Apparently, the U.S. Navy Seals use what’s called box breathing to remain calm under pressure. It includes inhaling to the count of four, holding for four and exhaling for a count of four, and then repeating the routine.
A different exercise changes the count to breathing in for a count of four, holding for four, breathing out for a count of six, holding for two and so forth. Some experts recommend exhaling with your lips pursed making a whooshing sound.
As I said, there are a ton of stress-relieving exercises online. Choose one. The key is to give yourself a moment to rid yourself of stress and anxiety and to have a very happy holiday. Cheers.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of the Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article was written for publication in the Bonner County Daily Bee: on December 20, 2023.