Breathing is one of the simplest and most effective ways of managing stress, anxiety and general feelings of uptightness. We don’t think about breathing- we take in about 23000 breaths a day and never pay it any attention. But when we are stressed or anxious our body responds as it did when we were living in caves and always on guard – our breath gets shallower and faster in order to send more oxygen to our muscles so that we can run faster and fight better.

That’s really not helpful for modern living and so we need to use our breathing to calm us and send messages to our body that we are safe. Conscious slow breathing through the nose, deep into our diaphragm, activates the “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system that is the very opposite of “fight and flight”. I promise you that when you are nervous about a presentation or facing a deadline or going on a date or sitting in traffic worrying about being late, a few slow deep breaths are all you need to feel calm and in control.

I like to practice what I call 4 square breathing –  breathe in for 4 seconds up the side of an imaginary square, hold at the top of the square for 4 seconds, exhale down the side for 4 seconds, and hold along the bottom for the last 4.  A couple of rounds of that and I’m so chilled I can even handle a take-off in a tiny propeller aircraft.

There are lots of other breathing patterns- you can breathe in through the nose for four, hold the breath for two, and then breathe out for six. You can say relax under your breath as you exhale. You can practice breathing while you walk- always through your nose, breathe in for 5 steps and out for 5 steps. Find one that works for you and practice a few times a day. You’ll feel better and you’ll have the skill at your fingertips when you suddenly need it.

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