Have you ever gotten really mad when you’re in the midst of a crisis, and someone says to you, “Just breathe!”?
My initial impulse when someone told me this used to be anger and defensiveness.
I mean, How dare they??!!!
They have NO idea what I’m going through right now!
Have they EVER faced a major hurdle like the one I’m facing right now? Oh, I don’t think so!
Recently, a client was sharing her feelings with me about the confusion she experiences when she’s most stressed-out. It feels like her whole life is being dropped into a spinning top, making everything seem blurry and out of control.
She came to me looking for a way to handle these moments. I told her what I tell everyone (including myself): make sure your body is relaxed, and don’t forget to take a breath once in a while.
In the heat of our worst moments, the suggestion from a well-meaning family member, friend or coworker to “Just Breathe!” can feel patronizing. But it’s really the most helpful suggestion someone can make because it is rooted in the age-old understanding that what you do with your body directly correlates to what happens to your mind and emotions.What you do with your body directly correlates to what happens to your mind and emotions. Click To Tweet
This understanding is the basis for concepts like embodied cognition, a theory that essentially says the mind does not exist separate from the body. Thought originates in the brain, which is a physical organ just like the heart or lungs. Recent studies have explored how many of our metaphors combine our physical experiences with our emotional—such as love as a feeling of warmth (a physical sensation), or a heart as cold as ice, or something being “over our heads” as conceptually confusing or out of reach.
There are many more examples that show how our emotions, thoughts and physicality are closely linked. We’ve all experienced how external influences affect our mindsets and our moods. Even minor physical imbalances like feeling hungry or dealing with a pulled muscle can make us cranky. So what happens when our triggers show up?
When the car breaks down. . .
When the paycheck doesn’t come. . .
When the kids forget to call and say they’re running late. . .
When our partner disappoints us. . . over. . . and over again.
When we’re really upset, our physiological stress response and emotional reactions run the show. We completely forget that cognitive embodiment is a two-way street.
What do we need to do in those moments, instead? How can we put our knowledge of the mind-body connection into practice?
The answer is the same, regardless of who gives it to you, whatever situation you’re in, and no matter the tone of voice: relax your body, and yes… breathe.
Because mountains of research proves that physical ease leads to mental ease, and mental ease leads to far less emotional reactivity. When we can focus our attention on breathing while we let go of any tension we’re holding in our bodies, we can better regulate our emotions.
Make it a priority to check-in with your body simply by asking yourself these two vital questions: Am I tense? Am I breathing fully? Do this periodically throughout the day, and it will lead to less stress and less reactivity. If you do, you’ll discover that you can rely on your body to show up as a faithful friend who knows how to speak a sort of secret code to your mind.
In other words, when you listen to your body. . . your mind will calm down.
And what happens to your urge to yell, scream, cry, and crumble?
It loses power over you because you’re bringing awareness to your body instead of reacting to your stressful moments. You may still be standing in the center of a whirling crisis, but when you’re focused on staying calm and breathing, you’re far more likely to find the quiet place at the center.
Try it this week. When something upsets you, make it your first priority to relax your body and breathe. For some pointers, watch my Video Relax Your Body and Breathe.
Please feel free to email me and let me know how it goes.
Take good care : )