Many of us (myself included) have felt a heightened sense of stress and anxiety during this pandemic. The illness itself and the high numbers of people it’s infecting, school closures, childcare changes, job changes (furloughs, layoffs, working from home) — all of these routine changes can pile up and weigh us down. When the weight of the world is sitting on your chest, take a few moments whenever you can to center yourself back in your body and just breathe.
Breathing in the right way can make quick changes to lower blood pressure, slow a racing heart rate, increase blood flow to extremities, and change hormone releases that can all contribute to getting out of a “fight or flight” response and recovering into more normal resting patterns. There are also long-term benefits to improving your breathing pattern. We average about 22,000 breaths per day, so making small changes for the better can have a huge cumulative impact on our resilience as well as posture and deep core control.
Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down in neutral spine posture, center yourself in your body, and pay attention to what you feel for a few breaths. It takes a good exhale to set up a good inhale, so I always like to start with breathing out. Exhale slowly through the nose or mouth, and feel your ribs draw down and in toward your pelvis, with your upper rib cage and sternum relaxing down as well. You may notice a deep cinching sensation in your abdominals and pelvic floor. Pause for a few seconds at the end of the exhale, then slowly inhale through your nose. As you inhale, try to feel your lower rib cage and abdomen inflate to start the movement, expanding upward through your ribs with more air. This makes your diaphragm do the work of drawing air, in, and reduces unnecessary muscle tension in your neck and shoulders.
Paying attention and practicing your breathing in small bits here and there throughout the day will give you a few moments of relaxation, improved oxygenation, and over time lead to better breathing pattern habits even when you’re not thinking about it. And hopefully a few moments of calm can make your day a little bit lighter.
Written by Deb Scheibe PT, DPT, CKTP, FMS. Deb brings her love of sports and experience as an elite level Ultimate Frisbee player to her physical therapy practice, with the goal of bringing out the athlete in everyone no matter what their activity of choice. She was inducted into the USA Ultimate Hall of Fame in 2019.