Pause, breathe, choose: I remind my clients (and myself) of this sequence frequently, adding that the response we make to a stressful event is our choice, not a given.To reach the point where we recognize other choices, it is important to be able to distance ourselves from the world and center on our own bodies and minds. Correct breathing is the key here. If you have ever studied voice or a wind instrument, you probably know how to do this already.If not, here’s a primer: deep breathing doesn’t come from the chest, but from the abdomen. Therefore, the best way to start taking a deep, relaxed breath is to let go of all the muscles you have probably been trying so hard to hold in. Feel the entire front of your body release; if you are sitting down and are not skeleton-thin, you may feel a portion of your lower abdomen touch the very tops of your thighs.
At the moment that this happens, think of your body filling with air, and picture that air reaching all the way down into the bottom of your abdomen. At the same time, you will probably become aware that your entire rib cage is expanding to the side as well as to the front.
Once you have grasped this technique, try the following sequence:
Inhale for four slow counts
Exhale for four slow counts
Stay empty for four slow counts
Your body contains enough oxygen for you to rest comfortably for four slow counts without feeling the slightest bit deprived, yet somehow in this state it is difficult if not impossible to think of anything except your body, especially the center of your body which is involved with breathing. Your consciousness pulls in until the outer world recedes, and you are all alone, comfortably, with yourself. The squirrel wheel of your mind even stops.
Repeat this exercise several times. If you do it for ten minutes, you are taking giant steps towards maintaining physical and mental health, for it not only slows down your thinking but also slows down your nervous system and your heart rate.
In this state, unimportant events somehow slip away. You may find they are replaced by truly creative thoughts about how to plan your next moves.
Once you have learned this technique, you can practice it anywhere. Just a deep breath or two can help you handle a difficult situation with less stress.
Easy, and cheap. What more can you ask for?