Folks, it has been a tough year.
2020 has given us an extra heaping helping of liver and onions on top of already full plates (Political division, social unrest, hurricanes, economic instability, and a worldwide pandemic). Mental health professionals recommend self-care activities such as: exercising, being outdoors, engaging socially, and surrounding ourselves with loved ones. Those self-care activities seem increasingly difficult or even irresponsible right now.
So, this new blog presents an opportunity for providers in our clinic to share helpful information with our patients.
Let’s talk about deep breathing.
Even during “normal” times, the use of deep breathing can be instrumental in promoting a relaxed mind and body. During my training, one of my professors taught me a simple deep breathing exercise that I have passed along to patients for several years. I’d like to share this with you.
Let’s try this exercise:
- Find a quiet spot, with a comfortable chair, preferably with no arms. Sit up tall, feet flat on the floor, and arms dangling at your side (no impairing circulation by crossing legs, feet, or arms…let blood flow to all the places it’s supposed to flow). Close your eyes if you can better relax that way, and if not, just keep them open, but avoid visual distractions.
- Take a slow, deep nasal (through your nose, not your mouth) breath in. This should be an “abdominal” breath (your belly gets bigger when you inhale, NOT your chest). Try it, you’ll see what I mean.
- Now, here’s the tricky part. For most people, the slower and longer they can exhale, the more relaxed they will become. The way we accomplish this SLOW exhale is to let our mouth and lips control how fast the air leaves us, NOT our lungs. So, once your lungs are full, shift the air from your lungs to your mouth, let those cheeks puff out, then slowly let the air leave your mouth through pursed lips. It should sound like letting the air out of a balloon slowly, there may even be a slight whistling sound. Yes, you will probably look and sound a little ridiculous…that’s ok, did I mention this exercise is best done alone? Again, practice, and I think you’ll find it’s easier than it sounds.
- Repeat. Whether it’s 5 breaths, 50 breaths, 1 minute, or an hour, keep breathing…deep abdominal nasal breaths, and long exhales with your mouth and lips in control of the breath.
Practice this daily when you can, even if only for brief periods of time. DO NOT just use this practice at times when your are anxious or upset. It is intended to be “mastered” during times when you are not anxious, times when the body and mind can reach full relaxation. When the going gets tough, the skills from this practice can be “ pulled out of your back pocket” . This practice can be combined easily with imagery, mindfulness, or progressive muscle relaxation – different topics for a different day, but these principles can be “googled” if they sound interesting to you, or can be discussed with your therapist or doctor.