Using the breath is one of the simplest ways we have to help ourselves when we are feeling stressed, anxious, or upset.
In the video below 'Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers' talks about one of the common ways people interrupt the natural rhythm of breathing.
'Sunny Spells' video gives a wonderful demonstration of breath-holding.
If you watch carefully you will see short pauses in breath, which sometimes interrupt her flow of speech, followed by a longer forced breath out. Most of the breathing is happening in her upper chest. 'Sunny Spells' helpfully points out those moments when it is happening most strongly.
So what's going on?
Breath-holding is part of an anxiety pattern known as freeze.
In freeze, our body is trying to make us as still and as small as possible so we won't be noticed. In freeze you may also find it difficult/impossible to talk, or find yourself rooted to the spot, finding it difficult/impossible to move.
Helping yourself to breathe
The first step is to notice when you are breath-holding. Because breath-holding is an unconscious/automatic response you may not always notice when you are doing it. You may however notice some of the other signs. You may be breath-holding if you...
When you notice you are breath-holding respond by allowing yourself to breathe.
This will help to alleviate your feeling of anxiety. By taking control of your breathing in this way, you are sending your body a powerful message that you are safe.
To the part of your brain which looks out for danger, being in control is the same as being safe.
Try a visualisation
Because freeze is meant to make us be as still as possible you may find your body resists your attempts to breathe more freely, and you may find this visualisation helpful,
Visualise the area of your body at the bottom of your rib-cage. Now imagine gently pushing downwards into your belly.
In the counselling room
Humanistic Gestalt believes human beings are best described as an endless cyclical flow, very much like waves on the sea shore. The natural rhythm of the breath is an outward sign of this endless flow.
Working with the breath is something I commonly do with people. Being able to flow with our breathing, also helps us to flow with the challenges of day to day living.
main picture by orianaoviedo0