This is a repost of a popular article I published last year. Given the current state of the country, many, if not all of us, are experiencing heightened levels of anxiety. I’m sharing it again today as a reminder to take care of yourself.
I’ll be back with new, regular posts tomorrow morning.
Long time readers know I’ve battled with anxiety and depression for most of my adult life and suffer from panic attacks. Not the kind bloggers talk about to seem relatable. A real panic attack feels like you are actually dying and in those moments, there is no telling you you aren’t.
So I try to use this platform at times to lessen the stigma around these disorders and encourage making mental health a priority, which, in my opinion, has been grossly and egregiously forgotten about in our current health crisis.
My hope is, if I share my experiences, others will feel more comfortable talking about it and asking for help. Or at a minimum not feel so crazy.
The Importance of Taking a Breath
Yoga has never been my thing, despite years of trying to practice it on and off. But one morning, a couple of years ago, I signed up for a gentle yoga class. For the first few minutes, I kept thinking, “this is not for me.” As the class progressed, though, I started to settle in and followed the calming, zen-like voice of our instructor.
I could feel myself relax and sink into my mat.
Halfway through the class I was overcome with emotion. Suddenly I realized two things: (1) I couldn’t remember the last time I took a good, deep cleansing breath, and
(2) I was living my life in a constant state of fight or flight for absolutely no reason.
That’s how I was introduced to the importance of mindful breathing and meditation. It’s since become a vital part of my daily self care that has made a huge difference in my life.
The Importance of Mindful Breathing for Our Mental Health
Real Life is a Lot
Like all working women, my days are long. Most feel like they are simultaneously flying by and also never-ending. With kids, a spouse, a business, and all that comes along with that, everyday life is overwhelming.
I use to wake up at 3:00 a.m. just about every night. The nighttime “gremlins,” as I call them, came running in, wreaking havoc on my mind. Like all gremlins, the more you feed them after midnight, the worse they get. The more outrageous the worry, the better.
In the morning, I noticed the tension in my body, how I was tightening every muscle and clenching my jaw to the point that I had to make a concerted effort to physically relax.
Then during the day, I would be tight all over; I’d feel it in my neck and upper back, right between my shoulder blades.
Sometimes, I was just holding my breath without even realizing it.
Physically the stress was building and emotionally I wasn’t handling things well, even simple, everyday nuisances would elicit a disproportionate reaction from me.
Something Had to Change
As women, our capacity to deal with mental angst and still maintain our highly functioning existence is remarkable. We often push down how we are feeling to make it through the day, or to keep the peace, so much so that we forget to take a minute and check in with what is happening in our bodies and minds. By the time I laid down in that yoga class, I was fried.
I knew my responsibilities weren’t going to go away; in fact, as my family and business expanded, my responsibilities were growing. No amount of outsourcing or lowering my standards was going to make the situation better and I didn’t want to feel bad in a life that was so good.
I had to take accountability, find a healthy way to process my emotions and take better care of myself.
The Practice of Mindfulness
To set a base for strong mental health, we need to take some time to breathe. Mindful breathing and/or meditation can help clear the cobwebs in our brain, bring us to center, and gain clarity. It’s sets a foundation for better judgement and, frankly, allows you to enjoy your life.
It’s been about two years since I started to make real changes because of that yoga class and I feel more like myself and in tune with myself than ever before. I’m a much better mother, I make way better choices and I have tons of tolerance for things that, in the past, would have set me off.
I also know when to step back or walk away from something. Where in the past I was incredibly reactionary, now, because I have space in my brain, I can figure out why something is bringing up a feeling, and productively address it. It’s totally game changing.
The practice of mindful breathing has provided me with a buffer between myself and the rest of the world.
Of course, life is far from perfect, but I have a solid set of tools to handle what it throws at me.
Tip for Mindfulness
This is video shows you just how simple the technique is to make your breathing more mindful.
Download the Breathe app (it’s $12.99 per month and worth every penny). I’ve tried other meditation apps and this one is the best. It has a large archive of mediations ranging form quick one minute wake ups, to more intense, longer options.
Schedule time to work out. I use my regular spin and strength classes as an opportunity to listen to my breath and body. Those few minutes before and after class while stretching is sometimes all I need to bring my thoughts back to center.
Find time in your everyday. I’ll practice breathing in the shower, while I’m loading the dishwasher, or as I’m falling asleep. You don’t need to “schedule” a time, just be aware of how you’re breathing and adjust it.
Do it For You
We have to make ourselves a priority. Self care is so much more than pedicures and face masks (though I love them too). Your to-do list can wait. When we start to take care of ourselves, when we stop operating from a place of depletion, we can get that list done better and faster and start to regain our joy.