Wellbeing is a broad term, defined as “the state of being comfortable, healthy or happy”, but how do we achieve it?
There are five areas to which we can turn our attention to, to boost our wellbeing:
- Connect with other people
- Be physically active
- Learn new skills
- Give to others
- Pay attention to the present moment (mindfulness)
We’re going to take a closer look at the final element of this list, mindfulness, and particularly how you can bring yourself back into the present moment simply by changing your breathing.
On average, you will take 25,000 breaths today.
Around 140 of those by the time you reach the bottom of this article, but how often do you take stock on the quality of those breaths?
When we are stressed, we take short and shallow breaths or can even hold our breath for periods of time without noticing.
This type of breathing keeps our bodies in the sympathetic nervous system, triggering the fight or flight response, with cortisol levels soaring to cause the feeling of stress.
This was effective for our ancestors, when faced with true dangers of their environment but nowadays our bodies can’t tell the difference between the fear of being chased by a wild animal and the anxiety of a looming deadline – both initiate the same physiological and psychological response.
Our breath is amazing as it’s one of the motor tasks that is involuntary but with voluntary control, meaning that at any time, we can consciously change it.
By taking the breath lower down into the body, filling up the abdomen with long, slow inhales and exhales, you can voluntarily move your body into the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s rest and digestion response, welcoming in feelings of peace and relaxation.
Picture this: You have a deadline this afternoon, things have come up which mean you have less time to complete the task than you originally thought, perhaps the internet has been down at home, or you had to attend a last minute unexpected appointment.
The time is counting down and no matter how hard you’re working to complete the assignment, you don’t seem to be making any progress. You can feel panic rising through your chest and a knot in your stomach that only worsens the more you remind yourself of how much time you have remaining.
You’re reminded of something you said in front of a group of colleagues a couple of weeks ago and it’s left you feeling regretful and anxious. The more you think about it, the more you convince yourself that you are not liked, and the story plays over and over in your head. You accept the version of yourself in the story as your reality.
In both scenarios, we find ourselves either stuck worrying about the future or ruminating on the past – sound familiar?
The remedy to this is to bring ourselves back into the present which can be achieved simply by changing our breathing.
Next time you feel yourself getting worked up at your desk, how about taking 5 minutes to try this exercise?
- Sit comfortably with a straight back and close your eyes.
- Place one hand on the middle of your chest, and one hand on your abdomen.
- Take an inhale through your nose for the count of 4, feeling both hands lift as the breath enters the chest first then fills the abdomen.
- Hold the breath for a count of four
- Exhale through your nose or mouth to the count of four
- It can help to imagine you have a balloon in your stomach that inflates on the inhale and deflates on the exhale.
- Repeat this pattern of breathing until you can comfortably increase the exhale to 8 seconds.
- Stay with your eyes closed and take a few moments to notice any changes in how you feel before opening your eyes.
If meditation or breathing isn’t for you, try getting away from your desk on a quick walk. Leave your phone at home and explore what you are experiencing across all 5 senses.
Let us know how you get on in the comments and happy breathing!