So many of our responses are automatic. If we are driving and have to stop short, our arm flies out to protect whoever is in the passenger seat. If we are hungry, our mouths water as we prepare a meal. If we cozy up on the couch after a long day with a warm blanket and the lights dimmed, we start to fall asleep. In a similar way, when we get stressed, our bodies follow their own autopilot. Without thinking about it, our muscles tighten up, our teeth clench, and we walk around with our hands in fists. Appetites may disappear, or we find ourselves on a sugar or carb binge. We may become energized and start organizing or cleaning, or we might lose all energy and find ourselves truly unable to motivate off the couch.
Fortunately, there is an easy way to start to combat the stress that can take over: breathing. Yes, that automatic function we take for granted can help the body regain its balance when stress sets everything topsy-turvy. Deep breathing works: it provides oxygen to the muscles, so they become more relaxed. It makes us focus on the “now” rather than the thoughts that pull us to the past and future and keep the stress cycle turning. It allows us to take the moment we need to regroup and figure out what we need to do next. Breathing in through the nose to the count of four, holding it for the count of 4, and then exhaling out the mouth to the count of four, and repeating this 4 times, takes only a couple of minutes and it works.
Combating worries and stress involves taking time, making space, and being intentional. This is a strategy you can do by yourself and teach to the children in your life. It provides an opportunity to reset, to self-regulate, and to recognize that you are more powerful than you think, even when stress takes over. With practice, this can become part of your programming, so you can automatically feel less worried, and more calm.