Breathe

Give yourself permission to breathe. 

Has anyone ever told you just to slow down and take a breath? How did it make you feel? Depending on your outlook, maybe you reacted with confusion or frustration. You breathe all day, you would be dead if you weren't breathing, why is this person telling me to breathe? That's dumb.

Or, maybe you paused and really thought about the advice. 

Sure, I breathe. But, I'm rarely aware of how I’m breathing, since my awareness is acutely focused on other things. Like everyone else, I'm sometimes anxious. I often stress about work tasks, my “to do” lists, and infinite personal and family obligations. Provoked by the constraints of an average workday, I often stress about my productivity. I'm always tormented by the lure of technology and the seemingly urgent notifications of my iPhone. 

All this builds up and creates anxiety.

Research shows that anxiety can restrict our breathing, leading to us to take quicker, shallow breaths, resulting in limited oxygen absorption and a spike in blood pressure. Cortisol levels increase, leading to restricted circulation and decrease immunity.

In searching for quick fixes, I've found that meditative practices such as yoga can lower anxiety levels. I've belonged to at least three yoga studious in the last 10 years. Each time I tried yoga, I was initially open to it. But, mid-pose, instead of breathing, I began stressing about when I should breathe, or not breathe. When should I breathe in? What should I do while I'm breathing? Am I even doing this pose correctly? 

My mentality towards yoga as a cure for anxiety has never really worked for me. I was forcing myself to breathe and measuring my effectiveness against others in the mirror. I needed to change my mindset.

I needed to grant myself permission to breathe.

Henrick Edburg, in his article "The Power of Breathing," suggests taking two minutes away from the anxiety-inducing situation to focus on breath. I've found that two minutes is more than enough to find space when my world closes in. Anytime I encounter stress, or feel overwhelmed, I simply take one large breath in, and out. I do this alone, or in the midst of a work presentation or a lively gathering – no one can tell. I do this when I’m cooking, writing, or when I find myself stuck in an endless social media loop.

Now, I practice conscious breathing. 

Taking one deep breath helps us to consciously pause, reflect, and refocus our perceptions, removing us from the source of anxiety. After taking one breath, whatever was bothersome becomes a little less annoying, and definitely more approachable. We never have anything to lose by just taking one conscious, full breath.

There's so much to gain by granting ourselves permission to breathe.