You’ve all heard that before, right, especially in dealing with anger? Take a deep breath and count to ten.
“But I don’t want to count to ten, ok?! I’m mad, or I’m freaked out, or I’m too down right now.”
Alright, so maybe counting to ten is not stupid, but it’s certainly insufficient.
“Why should I take a deep breath and count to ten, anyway? What’s in it for me, huh?”
Well, quite a bit actually!
Think of it this way—when you are stressed, angry, freaked out, etc, there is likely an imbalance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your body, and this doesn’t feel good at all. Also, when you’re stressed out, your brain is more likely to switch to an automatic-pilot mode of operation where you are severely limited to three basic coping strategies: fighting, fleeing, or checking out. Let’s be honest, for most situations we encounter, those primal reactions fail us every time.
For example, when a shark smells blood in the water, what does it have to do? It has to rush to the source of the blood, fight it, and eat it! This is how it prolongs its own existence. But what if the source of the blood is a shark hunter’s chum/bait? The shark can never take that lifesaving bit of information into consideration, but we can! We simply don’t have to fight or flee like our ancestors once did merely to survive. So to learn how to better access your higher levels of thinking, continue reading!
Let’s move on from simply taking a deep breath and counting to ten, shall we? Try what Dr. Christine Padesky calls, “controlled breathing.”
It is important to practice controlled breathing for at least 4 minutes because this is roughly how long it takes to restore the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide. The balancing works most effectively if you breathe deeply in and out an equal amount of time (a deep belly kind of breath). Try breathing in to a slow count of 4 and out to a slow count of 4 for at least 4 minutes and see if you become more relaxed.”
Simple enough, right?
One important tip is to not judge the experience of breathing. Let me be clear; don’t judge the experience until it’s over. Follow Nike’s admonition and just do it! Each time you find your mind has wondered, that’s ok! Just kindly return focus back to the breathing. As you breath out, imagine or feel your body soften and sink into whatever you’re sitting or lying on. For more on these tips, read Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “Full Catastrophe Living.” You may find that you’ve been on automatic-pilot most of your life.
- Stress reduction
- Increased ability to think and problem solve (Dr. John Gottman reports that breathing is best thing males can do when facing conflict with their significant others.)
- Balanced levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body
Give it a try!
Greenberger, D., & Padesky, C. A. (1996). Mind over mood, change how you feel by changing the way you think. The Guilford Press.