This week’s newsletter is going to cover a short piece of extremely actionable information on breathing to help you handle stress.
The Rise in Physical and Mental Distress
Since the world shut down, the collective rise in physical and mental distress has been on an uncontrollable path to poor mental health; thankfully, we feel it is one we can start to reverse.
One of the hardest parts of managing stressful situations is managing our (visceral) emotional reaction to hardship, especially if we were expecting a positive outcome. We definitely got our hopes up, didn’t we? When your work told you we’d just work from home “for a couple days” it sure set us up for a brutal mismatch of expectation to outcome.
Besides managing expectations without an emotional attachment, a key strategy in handling stress is focusing on the “pause” between input and output. Between action and reaction, which is really what we’re trying to manage effectively.
Control What You Can Control
First, we cannot control the input. This is the first step in understanding.
Second, We have a hard time managing the output, but why? Why do we feel the need to elicit an emotional response we feel like we can’t control. For one, it’s a lack of EQ development. In reality, we just don’t practice the “pause” enough.
As a result, the next time you find yourself in a stressful situation, how much space can you put between action and reaction? Between input and output? Can you afford to delay the words you say, the facial expression you make, or the behavior you put on?
We know…it’s hard. Some of us are just “made that way” (…which is false, and lazy).
So, here is your actionable, practical breathing tip to help you practice increasing that “pause”:
(Notation: “1010” = Inhale, Pause, Exhale, Pause)
1) First, start by breathing in a “1010” pattern. One-second inhale and one-second exhale with no pauses between those parts of your breath cycle.
2) Second, change your tempo to “2020”, which will help you begin to slow down your breathing.
3) Then, after 3-5 rounds of breathing at “2020”, change your tempo to “2121”, inserting a one-second pause between your inhales and exhales.
4) Next, After 3-5 rounds of breathing at “2121”, change your tempo to “2222”, inserting a two-second pause between your inhales and exhales.
5) Continue to breathe like this for 2-5 minutes, with an emphasis and focus on the pauses in your breathing, NOT the inhales and exhales. Our focus is this pause, twice per breath cycle.
Focus on the Pause
The goal of this exercise is to focus on the pause. This is the only time, while breathing, that we’re truly still. Focusing on the pause for extended time almost feels like you’re underwater, where outside noise is diluted and you’re “still” with your thoughts. It gives you space to calm down, think clearly, and remain focused.
All in all, by practicing this pause response, it helps to elicit a better physiological response to action/reaction situations. This helps us develop a better sense of how we react “in the moment.” How can we make that moment last just a bit longer to make a better, more informed decision about how to respond?
The “best day ever” mindset is a practiced response to input; even if it’s negative, we take a realistic, optimistic outlook at being able to change our state of being towards one of taking action, improving our standing, and moving on.