On day 196 of my 366-day self-care challenge, I explored breathing deeply as an act of self-care.
Deep breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, is a technique that’s been used for centuries to relieve stress and anxiety. And as a self-care practice, it’s a great way to find calm and restore balance.
Several different techniques exist, but the key is that the exhale should be longer than the inhale. Some suggest a 3-1-4 second cadence (inhale-hold-exhale), and some advocate a 4-7-8 pattern. But if you find the counting distracting, there are a number of apps that can help guide you through the process.
At the end of what was a particularly trying day, I found myself feeling a bit unsettled as I prepared for bed. I have a tendency to dwell on the day’s events, which means I often over-analyze things people say or do. Life’s day-to-day stressors can trigger both physical and emotional responses that can take a toll on our health if we allow them to persist for long stretches of time. Deep breathing increases oxygen exchange in the lungs, lowers heart rate, and enhances sleep.
After a brief period of deep breathing, I felt much more relaxed. Sleep came easily, and I was able to let go of the emotional unrest that I’d accumulated over the course of the day.
The beauty of breath work is that it can be performed anywhere. We can use these techniques mid-day if we become upset by something or someone, we can use them to prepare for stressful situations when we know about them in advance, and we can use them regularly, as part of our self-care practice.
While the techniques may feel awkward at first, they require no special skills or abilities – and you may just be surprised by how relaxed you feel afterward.