Some time ago, I asked someone I trusted for advice on coping with emotional stress as I was going through a lot of big changes in my life. Even though the changes were mostly positive, I was anxious, worried, and physically tense. I remember feeling disappointed when I was advised to practice deep breathing. I was expecting something a little more glamorous and complicated. Really? No elaborate protocols to reduce my tension? Breathing? That’s it? It seemed too simple and easy to really work.
I had been practicing mindfulness for years. I was very familiar with different strategies to help bring my focus to the present moment and my favorite was to hone emotional and bodily awareness, yet I had not been drawn to breathing exercises.
Despite my disappointment, I took the advice. I set out to practice deep breathing for at least ten minutes a day. At first, my mind wandered and I forgot I was practicing breathing. Sometimes I fell asleep or lost track of time. Eventually, I found an app that guided me through ten second inhales and ten second exhales for ten minutes at a time. I focused gently on inhaling and exhaling, and I imagined exhaling stress away. I still had distracting thoughts, but the sounds on the app reminded me to redirect my focus back to my breathing. By the end of the ten minutes, I continually felt less anxious, stressed, and calmer. I had more clarity in my thinking and found space to truly be in the present moment.
I brought deep breathing into my everyday life. I considered it a secret weapon to purposefully deepen my inhales and exhales during difficult conversations or stressful projects. I took tiny breathing “time-outs” and noticed I approached life with a more flexible attitude.
Deep breathing did not change my struggles. It did not take my challenges away. What it did was change my disposition, some days only a little bit, so I could make decisions from a more centered place.