Ever caught yourself in a mental whirlwind—super anxious, over-stressed, overwhelmed and spiralling into negativity? Been there, done that, time and time again. But guess what? There’s a nifty skill that can be a game-changer for you—learning the art of breathing to calm your mind and shake off anxious thoughts.
The breath and your nervous system
Because of the way the nervous system works, we can safely lean into the knowledge that the breath is the key link between the body and mind; breathing is just one of those overlooked tools that can make incredible changes to the way you feel in almost no time at all. Picture this: your body perceives a threat, and boom, the sympathetic nervous system, aka the fight-or-flight mode, kicks into gear. Pupils dilate, the heart races, blood pressure spikes, and the breath goes on a rapid rollercoaster ride.
Now, when the coast is clear, the parasympathetic nervous system steps in for the post-action chill session, activating the rest-and-digest mode. Heart rate slows, breath calms, and your body gets down to the business of healing and rejuvenating itself.
What’s fascinating is that your nervous system is a bit of a drama queen—it activates the same way, whether the threat is a real-life lion chasing you or just the lion-sized stress of a looming deadline, a tricky chat with a loved one, or a social event that feels like an emotional rollercoaster.
Here’s the cool part: your mind and your breath have a tag-team match going on through the nervous system. Change the way you breathe, and you can flip the script on your nervous system, tweaking your body’s vibe and, consequently, the state of your mind.
Now, when your thoughts are doing the Macarena in your head and you need an emergency exit, the quickest route is to hop off the mental rollercoaster and land safely back into your body. And guess what your trusty sidekick is in this situation? I mentioned it already: it’s your breath, of course.
3 steps to pull you out of the whirlwind:
- Body Awareness: Sit comfortably, feet on the ground, hands resting in your lap. Soften your gaze, breathe naturally, and just relax. Notice the dance of your breath as it moves in and out.
- Earth Connection: Feel the chair beneath you. Imagine roots sprouting from your feet, moving into the earth like you’re connecting to your own personal nature-Wi-Fi connection.
- Exhale Extension: Now, take things further by extending your exhale by one or two counts. Do this for one to three minutes, and watch the magic happen as you shift into the parasympathetic state. It’s like turning on the calm mode in your personal control panel.
In a nutshell, your breath is like the superhero of your nervous system control. It’s potent, it’s free, and the best part? You can use it whenever, wherever. So, the next time you feel like you’re caught in a mental tornado, use your breath as your guide. Let it pull you out of your head, ground you into your body, and bring you to that serene state of being.