Christmas… that magical time of year where everyone is merry and bright…
Or not, as is often the case.
Christmas can in fact be one of the most stressful times of the year. Making sure everyone has a suitable gift, remembering who is allergic to what, shopping, baking, decorating and thinking of places to hide the elf. The list goes on.
Sometimes we want it to go well so badly that we do not enjoy ourselves at all. We spend the majority of the holiday period with our shoulders up by our ears and our jaws clenched in a festive grin – or grimace.
This year the festivities have a sour tinge. Covid restrictions mean we may not see our loved ones at all. This does not however lessen the tension, instead, it accentuates it. Human beings always want what they cannot have.
What then do we do when stuck in a situation that seems beyond our control?
At those times, it is wise to address the things that we can change and accept those things that we cannot. Anything else is a poor use of our energy.
How do we first begin to do this in times of crisis? There is one obvious starting point…….
In and out
Slowly and deeply
Taking our awareness only to the ‘in and out’ of our breath.
We have said before, that breath is synonymous with life. We all know the importance of breathing and yet we often forget to make it a conscious tool to improve our wellbeing.
When we breathe properly we use our intercostal muscles, our diaphragm and the abdominal muscles to expand the chest cavity out and down. This creates negative pressure that pulls air into the bottom of the lungs, utilising our full lung capacity.
This process is called diaphragmatic breathing.
Diaphragmatic breathing allows maximum gas exchange, delivering more oxygen to all parts of our body. In addition using the diaphragm this way stimulates the vagal nerve, which runs through it. This vagal stimulation activates the parasympathetic nervous system triggering the ‘Relaxation Response.’ This is a physiological reaction where the body down regulates our fight flight hormones, reducing our blood pressure and heart rate.
When we are tense and stressed, hunched in a defensive body position we cannot breathe effectively. We forget to use the diaphragm and make do with the limited efforts of our accessory muscles to breathe.
This is inefficient.
We cannot function this way. With poor oxygenation our bodies feel wearier, we get headaches and our brain does not work as well; our decision making is poor and our performance impaired.
What if we made our breathing a conscious activity?
Whenever you feel overwhelmed, anxious or afraid, try this exercise to harness the power of your breath.
Sit up straight wherever you are
Drop your shoulders, allowing your shoulder blades to fall down and come together
Unclench your jaw and relax your face.
Place one hand on your chest and one on your abdomen
Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose
Take the breath down to the bottom of your lungs
Keep the hand on your chest still and allow the hand on your abdomen to rise
See how far out you can push the bottom hand
This is diaphragmatic breathing
Breathe out through slowly through your mouth
If you feel the hand on your chest moving you are using the accessory muscles not the diaphragm.
Place your palms together in front of your chest and push together. This fixes the accessory muscles and it is easier to use the diaphragm.
Use this exercise whenever you need it…
When someone upsets you
When you hear bad news
Before you call loves ones you are unable to visit this year
Cultivate the habit of making your breathing a conscious activity, and feel the benefits
We hope you all have a peaceful Chritmas. Take care Karen and Chrissie