Take a Deep Breath
Recently, I made a one-day trip to Nashville. As I approached the Nashville area, traffic picked up considerably. Now, I grew up learning to drive on the congested roads in Houston, but I’ve lived in Southern Illinois for the past 14 years. We don’t have any freeways and rarely experience traffic jams unless a slow train rolls through town. So, I’m not the same defensive driver that I once was. All that is to say that I found myself growing increasingly nervous as more cars and trucks closed in around me. I gripped the steering wheel tightly, grit my teeth and felt the stress settle inside.
At that moment, I became aware of how shallow my breathing was. This shallow chest breathing was both a sign of my anxiety and was also making it worse. As Rachael Rifkin states, “When we breathe in a shallow way, the body remains in a cyclical state of stress – our stress causing shallow breathing and our shallow breathing causing stress” (Rifkin, n.d.). So, I intentionally took three deep, belly breaths and immediately felt my stress, tension and fear subside. Instead of being stuck in the sympathetic state of fight or flight, those deep breaths allowed my body to relax and my mind to calm down. The traffic didn’t feel quite so threatening anymore!
This mundane experience is really just to remind us to be more aware of how we are breathing. Anytime we feel stress, tension or fear taking over, a few deep, belly breaths can calm us down immediately and make us more present. It’s such a simple measure, but how often do we forget to just take a deep breath?
Rifkin, R. (n.d.). How shallow breathing affect your whole body. Headspace. https://www.headspace.com/blog/2017/08/15/shallow-breathing-whole-body/