By Sue Coletta
Writers wear many hats… wife/husband, mother/father, sister/brother, friend, marketer, editor, (some add) publisher, (some add) cover designer, (some add) audiobook narrator, (some add) speaker, (some add) coach, housekeeper, bookkeeper, blogger, social media user/expert, tax preparer, holiday host, baker, cook, etc., etc., etc.
Under the best of circumstances, it’s a lot to juggle. During the holiday season, forget about it. Feeling overwhelmed is the new normal, especially if you’re hosting a holiday event.
First, breathe. You’ve got this.
When chaos starts shaking the to-do list in my face, I close my eyes, lean back, and breathe… It’s amazing what a few deep breaths can do. There’s a running joke in my family that I’m so chill, I’m practically a corpse. It’s true! My blood pressure rarely, if ever, rises above 110/60, even under stressful conditions. And you know why? Because I take advantage of the most powerful and the most basic gift we have — the ability to breathe.
It may not sound like much of a superpower, but controlled breathing improves overall health. Controlled breaths can calm the brain, regulate blood pressure, improve memory, feed the emotional region of the brain, boost the immune system, and increase energy and metabolism levels.
The Brain’s Breathing Pacemaker
A 2016 study accidently discovered a neural circuit in the brainstem that plays a pivotal role in the breathing-brain control connection. This circuit is called “the brain’s breathing pacemaker,” because it can be adjusted by alternating breathing rhythm, which influences our emotional state. Slow, controlled breathing decreases activity in the circuit while fast, erratic breathing increases activity. Why this occurs is still largely unknown, but knowing this circuit exists is a huge step closer to figuring it out.
Breathing Decreases Pain
Specifically, diaphragmatic breathing exercises. Ever watch an infant sleep? Their little tummy expands on the inhale and depletes on the exhale. They’re breathing through their diaphragm. We’re born breathing this way. It’s only as we grow older that we start depending on our lungs to do all the work.
Singers and athletes take advantage of diaphragmatic breathing techniques. Why not writers? If you find yourself hunched over the keyboard for too long, take a few moments to lay flat and concentrate on inflating your belly as you inhale through your nostrils. Then exhale while pulling your belly button toward your core. It takes a little practice to master the technique. Once you do, you can diaphragmatically breathe in any position. The best part is, it works!
Count Breaths for Emotional Well-Being
In 2018, another scientific study found that the mere act of counting breaths influenced “neuronal oscillations throughout the brain” in regions related to emotion. When participants counted correctly, brain activity showed a more organized pattern in the regions related to emotion, memory, and awareness, verse participants who breathed normally (without counting).
Controlled Breathing Boosts Memory
The rhythm of our breathing generates electrical activity in the brain that affects how well we remember. Scientists linked inhaling to a greater recall of fearful faces, but only when the participants breathed through their nose. They were also able to remember certain objects in greater detail while inhaling. Thus, researchers believe nasal inhalation triggers more electrical activity in the amygdala (brain’s emotional center). Inhaling also seems key to greater activity in the hippocampus, “the seat of memory,” according to Forbes.
The “Relaxation Response” (RR) is a physiological and psychological state opposite to the fight-or-flight response. RR therapy includes meditation, yoga, and repetitive prayer, and has been practiced for thousands of years. These stress-reducing practices counteract the adverse clinical effect of stress in disorders like hypertension, anxiety, insomnia, and aging.
Yet, research on the underlying molecular mechanisms of why it works remained undetermined until a 2017 study unearthed a fascinating discovery. Both short-term and long-term practitioners of meditation, yoga, and repetitive prayer showed “enhanced expression of genes associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function…” and more efficient insulin secretion, which helps with blood sugar management. Relaxation Response also reduces the expression of genes linked to inflammatory responses and stress-related pathways. In simpler terms, controlled breathing helps boost the immune system and improve energy metabolism.
This probably goes without saying, but I’m mentioning it anyway. Good brain health increases creativity. Creativity helps inspiration. And inspiration ups word counts.
With all the rushing around for the holidays, combined with writing deadlines — either self-imposed or contracted — please take the time to breathe. Your body and your muse will thank you later. 🙂
Happy Holidays, my beloved TKZers! May all your writer dreams come true in 2020.
I needed this, Sue, because yesterday I was outside in my Bermudas and my breaths were coming in short pants.
Please tip your waiter.
Seriously, good reminder not just to breathe but to take some time to SLOW DOWN. Indeed, strategic slowing after intense attention creates an incubation effect. The boys in the basement! Let them work. That’s what you pay them for.
Exactly, Jim. When I was researching what to write about, my mind spun with my never-ending to-do list. It’s only when I stopped to quiet “the voices” that I thought, why not write about that? Boom. Win-win!
I so agree. (Except for me, it’s the girls in the attic.)
I wish everyone many good, deep breaths this holiday season.
“The girls in the attic.” Love it, Laurie! May you also have many deep breaths this holiday season. 🙂
A great reminder, Sue. This time of year can have added self-imposed stress but it also has the potential for joy if we take a breath.
Stay in the moment.
Show gratitude for friends & family.
Let things go that are beyond your control.
Replenish the self-love well.
Don’t forget that it’s okay to take care of yourself too.
Merry Christmas, Sue & my TKZ family. Breathe.
Love your list, Jordan! Amen to that.
While wrapping presents the other day I watched two movies that you would love: A Dog’s Purpose and the sequel, A Dog’s Journey — both movies adapted from novels.
Merry Christmas. xoxo
I’ve seen both…along with tissues.
What great advice, Sue! And not just for the holidays.
We try to keep things simple around here, but it always gets more hectic than we thought it would. After reading your article, I took a minute to lie on the floor and do some deep breathing (diaphragmatically, of course ?). Now I’m ready – bring on the holidays!
Shalom and merry blessings to all TKZers.
Awesome, Kay! I’m ready, too. May the celebrations commence!
Thanks so much for the kind words. An emphatic YES regarding deep, controlled breathing all year. Many blessings to you. xo
Excellent breathing overview! To which I’ll add my own favorite RR activity: repetitive “bobbing” at the deep end of a warm-water pool.
Thank you, Harald! Ooh, love your RR activity. The other day on the news they showed a segment on float pods, and it looked heavenly inside, bobbing on salt in warm water. It’s now at the top of my must-do list after the new year.
Wishing you a warm and wonderful holiday.
This is so true and thank you for all the scientific confirmation.
When my husband was still working in law enforcement, he attended a seminar for police officers on how to reduce stress. The presenter used meditation/bio feed back tapes by Dr. Emmett Miller. These breathing exercises and relaxation techniques are so effective, he could relax his tension no matter what situation he was in.
He recommended the exercises to me when I had a stiff neck so severe not even the muscle relaxers my doctor gave me relieved the pain. I figured if police departments were using these techniques, they must be good and gave it a try.
After following the twenty minute exercise, my stiff neck was gone and I had no more pain. Since then I have regularly used the exercises for tension, stress, and insomnia, all with wonderful results.
You can find his downloadable meditations and exercises on his website if you’re interested. https://www.drmiller.com/
Ooh, thank you for the link, Cecilia! I’m always interested in ways “to live your best self,” as they say. Your hubby’s a keeper. So many police officers don’t take the time for physical and psychological healing, and they end up paying the price.
Wishing you joyous, stress-free holidays. Cheers!
You are very welcome, Sue. And yes, he is a keeper. He saw too many men pay the ultimate price for not seeking help after traumatic experiences. They produce emotional scars which must be dealt with, preferably in positive ways.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Back at ya, Sue. I am off to do my afternoon walk and look at the trees. No music, no ipod, no talking. Just birds.
Breathe in pink, breathe out blue….
Breathe in pink, breathe out blue…. Love that, Kris. Enjoy your walk!
This is so interesting Sue! This explains that there is another reason why I always have a good night’s sleep after a yoga session other than just working out the kinks. I will practise the breathing on my non-yoga days! Thanks 🙂
That’s exactly why you sleep good on yoga days, Linda. 😉 I practice diaphragmatic breathing when I have trouble falling asleep, and I’m out within minutes. Counting breaths quiets the mind.
I needed this, right this very minute! –Auntie Mame xx
Love when that happens! Wishing you and yours a very merry Christmas, my friend. xo
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I’m not sure how I’m still running, lol. It’s been a stressful few months but I’m hanging in there. Take care, Sue!