Here comes the holidays, and along with them, a range of emotions. From feeling stressed-out and excited, to overwhelmed and nostalgic, anxious and joyful, to triggered and calm (and often all of the above) it is safe to say that the holidays tend to throw our neurological systems into chaos. However, just because our bodies enter "fight, flight, or freeze" mode as a means of self-protection, does not mean that we have to stay in the state of hyperarousal (anxious and restless) of hypoaroused (depleted and drained). I am happy to say, that there is a simple breathing technique that has been scientifically proven to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which quickly and efficiently tells our minds and bodies that it is safe to relax so we can feel calm and clear-minded once again.
How to Use Equal Breathing to Regulate Holiday Stress:
Breathwork gets a lot of buzz because it has layers of proven health benefits that are able to be tapped into by simply bringing awareness to your breathing and changing its rhythm. My favorite for the holidays is simply "equal breathing". Yes, there are a lot more sophisticated techniques when it comes to breathwork, but I find equal breathing instantly soothing since you can practice is anywhere, at any time, without anyone around you even noticing. According to the New York Times, "Consciously changing the way you breathe appears to send a signal to the brain to adjust the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system, which can slow heart rate and digestion and promote feelings of calm as well as the sympathetic system, which controls the release of stress hormones like cortisol."
To experience the benefits of Equal Breathing, follow these 3 steps:
1. When you notice stress and feelings of being overwhelmed or you enter shut-down mode and feel tired and drained, first bring your awareness into your breath. Notice if you are holding your breath or if it is short and shallow. Taking a moment to listen to and feel your inhales and exhales will help you shift into a more calm, rhythmic breathing pattern.
2. Slow your breathing by counting to 4 in your mind. Inhale through your nose 1..2..3..4. Exhale through your mouth 1..2..3..4. If you prefer longer or shorter inhales and exhales, do what makes you feel the best and most comfortable. The important part of this breathing technique, is that it is an even flow, in and out. This even cadence of breath signals to your body that you are calm and safe, allowing your mindset to align with these same feelings.
3. Practice equal breathing until you feel the stress-relief shift happen for you. Sometimes this only takes a few breaths, sometimes a few minutes, other times longer. The more that you practice this form of breathing, the more it will become a natural habit for you and a go-to tool to consciously regulate your nervous system through your breath.
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