Try Some Breathing Exercises

How often do you think about breathing? If you’re like most people, the answer is not very often. Our bodies breathe automatically, so we don’t have to interfere with that, right? While it is true that you do not usually have to think about breathing in order to survive, understanding how breathing affects your nervous system, and using that knowledge to have some control over your nervous system, can make a big difference in how calm you feel day-to-day. Your autonomic nervous system has two parts—the sympathetic nervous system, which controls your fight-or-flight response, and the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your rest-and-digest response. Activating one deactivates the other. Shallow, quick breathing activates the sympathetic nervous system, preparing your body for fight-or-flight. If your sympathetic nervous system is overactivated, it can leave you in a stressful and anxious place. By contrast, slow, deep, and controlled breathing indicates to your body that you are safe, activating the parasympathetic nervous system. This helps you feel calm and relaxed. So, doing a quick breathing exercise can hijack your system into calming down. We recommend the square breathing technique, in which you breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds, hold your breath again for four seconds, and repeat. We also recommend the 4-7-8 breathing technique, in which you breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, breathe out for eight seconds, and repeat. You can set your alarm for three to five minutes and do these techniques yourself, or look them up on YouTube, where there are many videos that will guide you through them.