HO! HO! HO! and SLOOOOOW it Down
This time of year is always full of activities, emotions and stress. It’s December – summer is “here” (it takes it’s time arriving in the Cape), the days are longer and there is a lighter feeling in the air. Christmas and New Year are around the corner, and these are all reasons to feel happy and to celebrate. Naturally, this time of year also brings stress – finishing up the year\s admin and work, travelling, buying gifts, coming together with friends and family, and remembering those that are no longer with us. For the past two years we have had this added looming stress of Covid.
So, amidst all these big things I invite and encourage you to step back and slow down for yourself regularly. One way of doing this is through breathing. We all know intuitively that when we breathe slowly and smoothly a feeling of calm descends, and the opposite occurs when breathing fast and shallow – tension mounts within us. Why does this happen?
Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine in 2017 identified specific neurons in the brain that connect breathing with our state of mind. This cluster of neurons in the brainstem (often called the “breathing peacemaker”) links respiration to relaxation, attention, anxiety and excitement, and regulates the balance between calm and aroused states. *
By focusing on, and slowing down our breathing, we can influence this cluster of neurons. The nerves pick up that our breathing is calm and controlled, and they inform the brainstem that all is ok. A cascade of calming, happy hormones is released; there is a drop in adrenalin and cortisol output, and we are left feeling light, happy and calm.
Try this exercise – lying down/sitting comfortably, using the nose only, breathe in for a count of 4 and out for the count of 6. At this rate you are breathing 6 breaths per minute, which is wonderfully slow and calming for the mind and body. Set and alarm reminder to do this twice a day for 5 to 10 minutes. This is an easy, free and accessible practice that will not only have an immediate positive effect on anxiety and stress levels, but in the long-term as well.
Wishing you a safe, peaceful, and jolly festive season!
- Breathing control center neurons that promote arousal in mice SCIENCEYackle, K., Schwarz, L.A., Kam, K., Sorokin, J.M., Huguenard, J.R., Feldman, J.L., Luo, L., Krasnow, M.A.2017; 355 (6332): 1411-1415