breath, mindfulness, and anxiety: nurturing well-being through deep breathing and self-care

breath, mindfulness, and anxiety: nurturing well-being through deep breathing and self-care

Throughout the years, I have spent countless hours sitting in the juice bars I've built, forming lifelong friendships. The world of pure food creates a health community that attracts individuals from various backgrounds, each at different stages of a similar journey.

Despite our differences, we share a common desire to improve our well-being. We all seek to savor delicious and healthy food while actively contributing to positive changes in our community.

For me, goodsugar is more than just a retail business; it's like the college education I never had. Every day, I learn something new by listening to our guests and honing my skills. Through these interactions, I have come across many people who are increasingly aware of their anxiety and are either ready to start or already practicing breathing exercises as part of their self-help practices.

Among the various self-help techniques, establishing a connection with our breath through long, deep, and slow cycles of inhalation and exhalation is the most important one I can share. While it may sound like a common suggestion from health and wellness advocates, it is far from a gimmick. Breathing directly affects our physiology, which in turn influences our mental functions, including thoughts and emotions. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of this simple concept and may dismiss breathing exercises as pointless or dull. However, by intentionally incorporating conscious breathing into our daily lives, we can significantly enhance our overall well-being and mental clarity.

The purpose of deep breathing is to slow down our heart rate to a normal pace and remain focused on each breath. If we find ourselves getting distracted, even for a moment, we can restart with a long inhale and ask ourselves, "Why am I getting distracted?" It is essential not to stigmatize distraction, as it is a natural aspect of the mind.

As we grow and mature, developing and practicing better mental focus becomes necessary, particularly when it comes to connecting with our breath, recognizing unhelpful thoughts, and staying present in the moment, regardless of our activities.

These skills come naturally to us as young children, but as we accumulate experiences and absorb negative influences over time, they tend to diminish. However, by consciously practicing deep breathing and mindfulness, we can reclaim these skills and improve our overall well-being.

The significance of being present lies in the fact that the only reality that truly exists is the present moment. The past is gone, and the future is yet to come. Therefore, the only moment we truly have is the present. Being present means fully engaging with the current moment, without being distracted by the past or the future. This can be challenging, as our minds often wander and get caught up in thoughts and worries.

Connecting with the breath can serve as a powerful tool to help us stay present. Breathing is an ongoing process that happens exclusively in the present moment, and it can act as an anchor to keep our attention focused on the here and now. Additionally, deep and full breaths can increase the amount of oxygen in our bodies, positively impacting both our physical and mental well-being.

Indeed, oxygen is essential for our bodies to function properly. When we take in more oxygen, our brain and body can operate at a higher level of efficiency. On the other hand, excessive carbon dioxide in our system can lead to feelings of sluggishness and lack of focus. Therefore, taking care of our bodies by engaging in deep breathing and ensuring sufficient fresh air is crucial.

While there isn't a single philosophy or guru that can teach us everything about being present and connecting with our breath, there are numerous resources available to assist us on this journey. Practices such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises can all contribute to cultivating a greater sense of presence and awareness in our lives.

Anxiety is a normal human emotion that plays an important role in helping us respond to perceived threats. When we feel anxious, our body's "fight or flight" response is activated, which helps us react quickly and effectively in dangerous situations.

However, when anxiety becomes chronic and starts interfering with our daily lives, it can develop into an anxiety disorder that requires professional treatment. Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health conditions characterized by excessive and persistent worry or fear that is often irrational or disproportionate to the actual threat.

When we experience anxiety, our heart rate tends to increase as part of the body's stress response. This increase in heart rate can trigger a cascade of physiological changes, including the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These changes can have both short-term and long-term effects on our bodies, such as elevated blood pressure, muscle tension, and decreased immune function.

It is also true that an elevated heart rate can send signals to the brain through the vagus nerve, indicating a potential threat. This activation can stimulate the brain's amygdala, responsible for processing emotions like fear and anxiety. When the amygdala is activated, it can trigger the body's fight or flight response, leading to feelings of physical and mental anxiety.

Deep breathing can be a helpful technique to restore our physiological responses back to baseline or normal during moments of stress. By taking slow, deep breaths, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system and decrease the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response. This can help reduce feelings of anxiety and stress, promoting a sense of calm. However, it's important to note that deep breathing may not work for everyone in every situation, and it's just one tool among many that can be used to manage stress and anxiety effectively.

I personally started practicing meditation and deep breathing exercises as part of my 12-step recovery program when I was 15 years old. Initially, I struggled to understand the simplicity of the practice as I associated it with spirituality. However, I eventually realized that for me, meditation is primarily a psychological process. While it may lead to spiritual awakenings for some individuals, it's not a requirement. Nevertheless, every person I've met who engages in breathing exercises experiences relaxation and improvement. Even simple breathing exercises done a few times a day can produce significant benefits. While sitting for hours in meditation can lead to rapid progress, smaller breathing exercises done throughout the day, starting in the morning with slow, long, full cycles of breath through the nose, can also be effective.

I have previously written about the distinction between nose breathing and mouth breathing in other articles on this website, but the truth is that it doesn't make a significant difference. If you have difficulty breathing through your nose, using your mouth is a viable alternative. When I wake up in the morning, I keep my eyes closed and become aware of my surroundings. I take about 10 long, slow, deep inhalations before opening my eyes and starting my day. This practice has helped me manage the anxiety I often experience after drinking a small amount of coffee, which triggers my adrenaline. To avoid overstimulation, I limit myself to three or four ounces of cold brew in the morning. It took me a while to learn to listen to my body's signals and adjust my caffeine intake accordingly.

Somewhere between getting dressed and reaching the elevator, I often find myself ruminating on business issues that aren't going well, triggering anxiety. I notice the physical signs of anxiety, such as an increased heart rate and racing thoughts, which can cause me to forget important items like my eyeglasses or keys. However, over the years, I've become more aware of what's happening and learned to intervene. When I notice these signs, I refocus my attention on my breath and take long, deep cycles of breaths. I don't need to stop what I'm doing, but rather, I take a brief moment to center myself before continuing with my day.

While it's important for me to stay active and get to work on time, I make a conscious effort to integrate meditation and breath awareness into my daily routine. I find that after about nine or ten deep inhalations, I can shift my focus to gratitude, which is incredibly beneficial for my mental well-being. Towards the end of the exercise, I'm able to surrender my fears and remind myself that whatever happens, I can handle it. As I go about my day at work, I continue to take deep breaths to manage any anxiety that arises. I don't have to stop what I'm doing or find a quiet space to meditate. Later on, when I'm sitting with my team and we're discussing problems and solutions, I simply keep taking deep breaths without interrupting the conversation. Although I enjoy the ritual of sitting cross-legged in a quiet room and lighting a candle, I know that I wouldn't be able to function if I had to do that every time I felt a twinge of anxiety.

Over time, I've learned several breathing exercises that have proven to be incredibly beneficial, especially in situations where I encounter conflict with others and feel triggered. I know that these situations will arise a few times a day, whether it's something someone says that triggers me or a threatening look from someone on the train. When my heart rate increases and I start to feel discomfort, I focus on my breath and consciously breathe through the discomfort. This helps me relax and clear my head so that I'm not reacting or responding impulsively. Practicing this technique has improved me as an individual in all aspects of my life.

Every day, I set aside a specific time to solely focus on my breathing exercises. This could be during my yoga class while performing postures, where I can maintain my focus on my breath for at least 55 of the 60 minutes. Sometimes, my mind may wander for a few minutes during the hour, but I gently bring myself back to the breath. It could be the teacher's voice or a challenging posture that requires my concentration, but most importantly, I notice when I'm distracted, and that's a significant shift. Previously, I never thought about where my focus was, and my mind wandered wherever it wanted. It controlled the narrative, rather than my consciousness taking over and directing my attention. But now, I consciously decide where to put my attention and focus.

To improve ourselves, we need to focus on short, repetitive breathing exercises over time. It's crucial to be patient and not expect immediate results. We can't reverse our thinking patterns overnight, especially after years of thinking about things in a certain way. This lack of progress can be discouraging, but it's important to breathe through that too. Those who are most successful in these practices have likely been doing them in some form already and just need a reminder of their simplicity. After all, we're already breathing, so it's just a matter of taking in more air, slowly exhaling, and staying connected to the breath. It's all about staying focused on the breath.

In summary, anxiety is a common human emotion that can serve a purpose in helping us respond to threats. However, chronic anxiety can develop into a disorder that requires treatment. When we experience anxiety, our body's stress response is activated, leading to physiological changes. Deep breathing can be a helpful technique to regulate our physiological responses, decrease anxiety, and promote a sense of calm. Incorporating breath awareness into our daily lives can help us manage anxiety and improve our overall well-being. With patience and practice, we can cultivate a greater sense of presence and connection with our breath, allowing us to navigate life's challenges with more ease and resilience.

Back to blog