Breathe Deeply and Regularly for Relaxation
By Omar L. Mangrum, EdD
These last 18 months have been the most challenging in recent times.The pandemic took many lives, made many people sick, isolated us from friends and family, challenged our healthcare system, some lost jobs, and made most everyone else anxious in one way or another. People have understood for generations about the negative health effects associated with long term stress. There are Chinese and other Eastern meditation practices that are ancient and are the foundation of our current thinking.
In my practice I have worked extensively with anxiety disorders and health related issues. It is my observation that one organ system in the body is often the more frequent target when we are stressed, like high blood pressure and cardiac issues being associated with prolonged stress. The gastrointestinal tract, the skin, and the muscles may also develop symptoms during difficult times. Stress also has a negative impact on our mental health and many become tense and/or irritable, and the risk of depression and other disorders increases over time. When we fail to be mindful of our body, it often will “turn up the volume” by increasing the symptom intensity or by adding yet another symptom. For example: “ I have headaches and heartburn.” This is when breathing in a purposeful way can make a significant difference in how you feel each day.
There are many styles of breathing exercises and it goes by many names, but the goal is always the same. My favorite exercise begins by having you sitting quietly in a chair with one hand on your chest and one on your stomach. Take in several deep breaths. Notice whether your chest is moving or your stomach is moving.The goal here is to hold your chest still and breathe deeply from your midsection or diaphragm. After some practice, you let your arms rest at your side and begin to breathe slowly and deeply from your diaphragm. Breathe in on a count of four, and out on a count of four. I also suggest that as you become proficient and regular in your breathing, switch to saying, "J--u--s--t” as you breathe in and then “R--e--l--a--x” as you breathe out. Pairing this phrase with the feeling that comes with the regular practice of breathing deeply eventually will elicit the same feeling with only a few breaths. Another similar technique has you count to 4 as you breathe in, hold your breath for a count of 4, breathe out to a count to 4, and then hold for a count of 4 and repeat. I recommend that you practice for 5-15 minutes at a time, several times each day. In clinical practice I often say, “You are breathing anyway, breathe in a way that promotes relaxation and quiets your mind.” So practice practice, practice! Practice while driving, while watching television or reading a book. Three deep breaths before eating helps digestion, helps your golf swing, and maybe keeps you from saying something that you can't take back. Remember, anything that you do well, you will do even better when relaxed.
Anything that you do well, you will do even better when relaxed.
There are many good resources on breathing and meditative practices. I suggest that you venture out to your local bookstore and head for the self help section. Pick out several titles that catch your eye and then grab a beverage and go sit down, begin to breathe mindfully, and look through those books until you find one where you feel like the author is talking to and about you. Buy that one. Otherwise, there are also many excellent resources available on the internet as well.
Breathe deeply and relax!
About the Author
Omar L. Mangrum, EdD
Dr. Mangrum has a M.A. in Clinical Psychology and an Ed.D. in Counseling Psychology. He has been practicing psychology in West Michigan since 1979 and has been part of HRApsychological Services since 1987. He has offices in Grand Rapids and Big Rapids.