The votes have been cast (by now we may even know who our President will be…this was written before polls closed on Tuesday), Covid is on the rise and people are just plain tired, frustrated, stressed and worried. Even the most open-minded and grounded person is likely feeling the anxiety that is radiating not only around our community and our country, but also around the world. Together we are all facing a third round of Covid spikes and while others may not have major elections taking place, I think the whole world holds its breath each time we have an election. So to everyone and anyone, breathe now!
Sure, Covid is nowhere near over and we didn’t wake up Wednesday to immediate peace on earth, but we can’t keep waiting for our chance to breathe. Our lives, our health and our peace of mind matter now, more than ever! Even while we have so many things around us we can’t control, we must find some grasp on the things we can control. One way to do that is simply to breathe. Feeling overwhelmed? Tired? Overdone? No matter how you are feeling right now, even if you are currently elated, I want you to try taking three full breaths. Breathe in through your nose like you are smelling the most amazing flower and then slowly blow out through your mouth like you are blowing out a candle. Take your time, see if each inhale can become deeper and each exhale can become a little slower.
How do you feel? When we are starting to feel like we are just trying to survive rather than having the opportunities to thrive, we often start to feel those physical effects. We have tense-tight muscles, we start to take shallow breaths and our heart rates are sometimes higher at rest due to the stress we embody. One way to soften those tight muscles and slow down those hearts is by taking the time to breathe a little deeper, a little slower and a little more mindfully than we typically do. And suddenly those three breaths become like magic. It doesn’t mean everything is perfect or even ok but straining your body doesn’t help that either! Let’s try that breathing again. See if you can breathe in for 1,2,3,4 and out for 6,5,4,3,2,1. Breathing in again for 1,2,3,4 and back out for 6,5,4,3,2,1 and one more time breathing in through the nose for 1,2,3,4 and slowly out through the mouth for 6,5,4,3,2,1.
If you are feeling a little uncomfortable right now, you aren’t alone. While our breath is what keeps us alive, it can feel unnatural to focus on the breath. Perhaps it’s our culture that encourages us to always be multitasking, now more than ever. While workplaces seem to think that loading up on emails, meetings and conference calls are the way towards success, just about every worksite wellness study disagrees. And while many workplaces aren’t ready or capable of working more efficiently, they will still expect you to! So how can you find a moment of calm before a big call? How can you ground yourself before that next video conference or how do you get yourself together before the all avoided “in-person” meeting during these times? Take some nice, full, slow breaths. Take them now! If you can get a moment alone, maybe even in the car where you can take your mask off for a few moments. Breathe. Let’s try this again. This time I want you to close your eyes (not yet) and see if you can soften the face, part your lips and release your shoulders from your ears. Then try those slow and mindful breaths. (Practice now as many times as you like but no less than 3 breaths.)
How did it go? Did you know that with practice you can train your body and your mind to accept these breaths as a trigger to release stress from the body? Just like a muscle that you work to rise to the occasion, you can also train your breath to help you lower your stress responses. It won’t happen overnight, but if you start to practice this and work it into your day you will start to notice a difference. Maybe make a commitment to try this breathing each morning before you get out of bed. Even better do it again at night when you unplug and let that head hit the pillow. Close your eyes and breathe! Once you get that new habit down, start to see if you can add this practice in in other areas. Imagine if we took at least 3 breaths before we responded to that last email, text or comment on social media? Imagine if we could go into work, or even into the living room with our families a little less stressed and tense?
There is so much ahead of us that we can’t control, can’t imagine and sometimes think we can’t cope with. What we can do, is take a moment to breathe. Breathe when we hear news that scares us, take a moment to breathe before we respond in anger and even take a moment before we savor a favorite meal, talk to a loved one or finally see someone after a long time. Centering yourself and taking a moment to breathe can help you to be more present in the positive times as well. Just try it, you’ve got nothing to lose because friends, we must breathe anyway! Go ahead and breathe – now!
Director of the Wellness Center