To Breathe or Not to Breathe? That is The Question.

by Lois Grasso

Do you ever feel like you’re stuck on an emotional “treadmill to oblivion”? When the mind gets stuck in uncomfortable thoughts and emotions, it’s partly because we have been programmed to breathe shallowly when under stress. The resulting lack of oxygen makes it hard for us to think clearly. We then get more panicky and go into “fight, light or freeze” mode. What comes next? Usually some lousy choices (over-reactions) that lead to more stress. And the cycle goes on and on.

Okay, let’s step back and look a little closer at how this happens. Remember the phrase, “stop crying or I’ll really give you something to cry about”? This common parental threat effectively trains us to breathe shallowly when we really want to cry. Shallow breathing helps us stop crying and regain parental approval – or at least avoid more pain. Problem is, it also cuts us off from the oxygen supply and prevents us from pushing out (a.k.a. expressing) the feelings that caused us to cry in the first place.

Pretty soon, we are “programmed” to automatically breathe shallowly in the face of any stressor that might possibly lead to crying. In fact, soon thereafter, many people don’t even know how to breathe normally – with the diaphragm. Chest breathing can reduce oxygen intake by as much as 65%, and the inability to process emotions leads to anxiety, depression, panic and worse.

This may explain a lot about why stress has been identified as the reason for most illness and disease. Chronic shallow breathing is a wide open door for health problems (even cancer), brain imbalances, energy deficits, and relationship problems too.

If you’re one of the few who still can (and does) cry aloud at times, you’ll recall the feeling of relief after a good cry. If you’re one of the many who never or seldom cry, you probably feel a lot of tension and anger.

Fortunately, we can reprogram ourselves – just as the operating system in a computer can be updated – with the right set of tools and skills. If you want to gain more control over your life and emotions, a useful program to copy and paste into your own personal operating system is “It is safe to breathe and relax when I feel stressed.”

In fact, one way of reprogramming yourself with this message is simply to write it clearly on the back of a business card or index card that you can carry with you at all times. Take it out whenever you feel stuck on something uncomfortable. Repeat the statement, as if you mean it, and take a deep diaphragmatic breath after each rep. Say the statement aloud, while you exhale. This will slow down the exhale and put more power behind your words. Repeat until you feel ready to move on to the next part of your day.

Changing a program can require a diligent commitment on your part, just like it does to fix a problem with your PC! And, as you know, there are sometimes extenuating circumstances that make it hard or impossible to “do-it-yourself”. If you need some technical assistance, you can call me for a private coaching session. I’m available by phone or in person. I work with Transformational Breathing, EFT, Psych-K, Laughter Yoga and Reverse Therapy.

Lois Grasso Copyright 2008
Holistic Health Therapist/Coach and Public Speaker

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