I wrote recently about my tattoos, and how important they are to me. I love all my tattoos, for what they represent to me if not for the design themselves. Recovery, joy, love, learning and resilience are in each and every one. No one will ever make me feel bad for having tattoos. They are my permanent reminders and celebrations of what I have overcome in my life.
The one on my right wrist was the first I got in my new, post alcohol life. It is a constant reminders of my inner strength, and the powerful tool I carry with me at all times. Whenever I feel overwhelmed by life, this tattoo reminds me what I have to do in order to find a moment of calm.
I need to breathe.
A few deep breaths can transform that moment of stress and overwhelm into something that feels more manageable. At the moment, sometimes ‘more manageable’ still feels tense and uncomfortable, but it does become easier when you calm and slow the breath. When you are able to pause, breathe deeply, exhale slowly and reconnect with your breath, you take control of your emotional response in that moment.
Stress and your breath are intimately connected.
When your stress response is activated, in moments that your nervous system perceives as threatening to your wellbeing, your whole being changes. Your body and mind become primed to run away, fight, or freeze, the primal part of you that is pure animal is running the show. Logical thinking is surplus to requirements. You don’t need to weigh up the pros and cons of flight or fight, you just need instinct and action.
In these moments, unless your life is in immediate danger, the stress response isn’t necessarily helpful. Modern life triggers our primal stress response on a sometimes hourly basis. The problems that modern living present us are, for most of us, not solved by fight or flight. We need creativity, logic, compassion, calm, presence of mind.
We need to be able to access our human, not our animal side.
To tap into the creative human, we need to be in a more relaxed state of mind. The stressed mind can achieve lots in the short term. But the constant, relentless stress that many of us experience even in ‘normal’ times’ doesn’t achieve this.
Long term stress not only impacts our creativity and compassion. It harms all aspects of our lives. The stress that we are living under now in this Coronavirus isolation could have repercussions for our mental and physical wellbeing long after we are able to socialise with one another and go back to work.
Stress takes a toll on the body and the mind, and can cause significant short and long term health problems.
We are all experiencing some sort of trauma at the moment, both as individuals and as a collective. Living with such a clear and present threat to life is not something we are used to in places like the UK. Experiencing this without the close human connection we need to feel safe adds another level of trauma to an already difficult situation. The very thing that our brains are wired to seek out in difficult times, the people we love, are now ‘a danger’ to us. We will be living with the fallout of this for many years to come at a systemic and personal level.
So when we are not able to reach out to our normal sources of support in the same way we have for millennia, what can we do to preserve our wellbeing, and manage our stress?
We can still maintain and grow connections to those we love, and our immediate and wider community. The technological nature of our society may have many failings, but right now, how grateful are we for the internet?
Breathe Back to You
On a more intimate level, we can return to that first thing we did at birth. By reconnecting with your breath, you can take charge of your emotional response, and lower your stress level. You can relax your body when you feel tense. Breathing deeply, you can find peace in your mind when you feel scattered and overwhelmed. You can release tension, fear and anxiety. By tuning in to your breath, you can reconnect to you. You can hear the voice of your inner wisdom.
When you slow and deepen your breath, you take yourself out of the flight or fight impulses of the stress response. You move into the calm, peaceful relaxation response. Stress and relaxation are two sides of the same coin, separated by a breath. When you feel tension rising, pause, breathe deeply, exhale fully, and turn all your focus onto that breath. Feel the tension melt away as you breathe slowly. It may take a couple of breaths. It may take several. Stick with it and you will find that calm space where you can think clearly.
Make it a daily practice to spend time with your breath. You will find it becomes easier to remember this when you need it most. The more you practice connecting to your breath, the calmer you will become in general.
Take this from an ADHD, former alcoholic, ex smoker, ex pot head, ex ball of stress and fury single mother! I may still operate at a higher baseline level of stress than some. ADHD seems to make that an unavoidable fact. But when I look back over the years since I stopped drinking and smoking, I know that I have only stayed on the sober path because I remember to check in with that tattoo on my right wrist. I remember to breathe. And I can handle all the shit the world wants to throw at me.
Even on the days when I feel like I am not handling anything, I am still handling life a million times better than I used to. And that is all down to those slow deep breaths.
You can find this strength as well. You already have the tools within you. All you need is to remember.
Just 5 Minutes a Day
Making this connection with your breath a daily habit can be easy, and so worth doing. Just 5 minutes a day can make a huge difference.
Try it for yourself with the free ‘5 Minute Breath’ mini course. In this free course, you will receive a practice video, a printable workbook. I will send you daily prompts and encouragement from me to remember to practice.
Find out more and start your ‘5 Minute Breath’ journey here
Join the 5 Minute Breath Challenge today!
If you are feeling overwhelmed by life right now, just taking 5 minutes a day to focus on your breath can be a powerful first step to clearing that overwhelm. Allow me to guide you through 5 minutes a day for 10 days, to soothe your mind and body and find a new perspective.
Thank you so much. One question: how do I exhale? Do I force all the air out with my stomach muscles or do I just relax and let the air out on it’s own?