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Take a breath

Nurturing

ANYTIME, ANYWHERE Focused breathing exercises are a great way of coping with stress and inducing calm.

Mental Health

Jannah Walshe

From the day we are born to the day we die, we continue to breathe. A small intake of oxygen and a release of carbon dioxide that keeps us alive without us having to give it any thought or effort. At certain times we have to give it more attention, like when we practice yoga, experience a panic attack or have to run for the bus! But what if we were to focus on it a little more? Could we use our breath to our advantage? Are there any benefits?
When we are under pressure or experiencing stress, the breath naturally becomes fast and shallow and concentrated in the chest area. During stress, the body releases a surge of hormones that causes your breathing to speed up, increases your pulse and blood pressure, and puts you in a state of hyper vigilance.
Deep, focused breathing can help reverse this response and relax your body. This is because you activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which in turn allows a larger amount of oxygen to reach your body’s cells and organs, slows down your heart rate and lowers your blood pressure, which all creates a feeling of calm.
Here are three simple breathing techniques you could try to activate a feeling of calm when you need it.

Remember to exhale
Taking big deep breaths is often what we think of when we think of breathing techniques. But this could lead to hyperventilating and for anyone that is trying to ease anxiety that is not good. The antidote to this is to focus on a longer exhale than inhale.
A handy way to do this is count in your head as you are breathing. For example counting up to seven on the inhalation, holding the breath for a count of three and exhaling for a count of eleven. It normally takes a few tries to get into the swing of it.

Hand on tummy
This one can be easier to do lying down. Place your right hand on your tummy and your left hand over your heart. Start by just noticing your breath as it is already, without changing it. Then as your breath in through your nose try to fill every part of your stomach area, which your hand will feel rise. As you breath out, use your stomach muscles to help push all of the air out. Take your time and do this exercise nice and slowly.

Feel the wave
For this one you will need to imagine your in breath as a wave coming over your whole body and your exhale as the wave leaving. As you inhale imagine you are inhaling a sense of calm and as you exhale imagine the stress leaving your body with the wave. Do this one with your eyes closed to help you focus better.
Notice the different areas of your body as you do it and see where you are holding stress. You can use your breath to release the stress in those areas.

Suit yourself
It is okay and possible to do a combination of these three breathing exercises – or find another technique that suits you. There are many more online, such as those found at www.spunout.ie/health/article/using-breathing-exercises-to-help-anxiety and at www.headspace.com/meditation/breathing-exercises. There is a huge array of breathing apps available now too.
The trick is to find something that you like and works for you, and to learn it well. That way you have a free, accessible and easy way to find calm within yourself, anywhere, anytime.

Jannah Walshe is a fully accredited psychotherapist, course facilitator and mental-health speaker based in Co Mayo. More information about Jannah can be found at www.jannahwalshe.ie.