As you read this I want you to focus on the absolute most basic function of life. You are doing it right now.
Notice how your chest rises and falls, your stomach moves up and down, the air in and out of your nose and mouth. If it is cold, you may even be able to see your breath today. When we take time to be aware of our actions, even the most basic, we tune with what is going on within ourselves and around us as well.
When we are panicked, our breathing is shallow and quick. When calm, it is slow, deep, and rhythmic. Breathing is one of the quickest ways we can change our moods. When my day gets to me, I go to a quiet place and just breathe in and out. This resets my mindset and heads me in a different direction.
At My Postpartum Voice, I started blogging in order to re-frame an unexpected pregnancy after two episodes of Postpartum OCD. Through my journey, I learned a lot, including how to take a time out for myself. As mothers, we do not have to sacrifice ourselves for our children. We matter too. Motherhood is something we add to our sense of self, not something which must overcome our sense of self. We must take care of ourselves so that we can then take care of our families.
When first introduced to breathing as a relaxation technique, we wonder how something so simple can work. My favorite story about “breathing” was finding my 10 year-old daughter playing the deep breathing/relaxation CD I’d made to a friend who was spending the night and having trouble sleeping. She said, “Just listen–you’ll feel better.” Fifteen minutes later, they were both asleep.
Deep breathing works so well because we spend so much time physically and emotionally stressed. Psychologist Alice Domar states that the average US adult experiences the fight or flight response 50 times daily. While adaptive for cave-dwelling ancestors running from saber-toothed tigers, the flood of stress chemicals through our bodies makes us edgy, irritable, and more vulnerable to physical and emotional health problems. Likewise, it results in short, shallow breathing which fuels rather than diminishes the stress response.
The busier we are, the truer this is, especially for moms with small children who already feel physically and emotionally depleted. The more rundown we are, the more likely the fight-flight response is to trigger. Research has shown that five minutes of deep breathing several times a day leads to lower stress hormones by day’s end. Why wait? If we can delay bedtime to pick up the house, certainly we can take 5 minutes, 3 times a day, to improve our physical and emotional well-being. Although it may feel strange at first to be still and breathe deeply, it feels good.
This week’s mantra: “I always have my breath to destress.”