Grief can be mentally and physically overwhelming. When grief becomes too much, a simple breathing exercise can help you calm down. Here’s how to do it:
1. Breathe in for a slow count of four. Breathe from your diaphragm, letting your stomach expand.
2. Breathe out for a slow count of eight. Gently draw your stomach toward your spine.
3. Repeat ten times (that’s about two minutes of slow breathing).
4. Repeat throughout the day as needed.
To time your breaths, you can use your hands as an abacus. Count to four on one hand (twice for an eight count) and mark the number of cycles on the other hand by counting five fingers, twice.
Just breathing for two minutes might seem too simple to stand in the face of grief, but there is real science behind it. When we experience stress, we breathe quickly and shallowly. This fires up our sympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as our "fight or flight" reflex. The sympathetic nervous system releases adrenaline and other chemicals into our blood to provide fuel so that we can run or fight. Too much of these stress chemicals can cause inflammation and other problems throughout the body.
The parasympathetic system is also known as the "rest and digest" system, and it’s the opposite of the fight-or-flight system. When the parasympathetic system is engaged, the body is able to relax, heal, and clear stress hormones from the blood. The parasympathetic system is controlled by the vagus nerve, which is actually a pair of nerves that run from the brain to the gut. To turn off our fight-or-flight response and turn on our rest-and-digest response, all it takes is two minutes of slow breathing, with a longer exhale than inhale.
Studies show that this breathing pattern can help soothe stress and can even help improve decision-making ability. This exercise can be performed any time you feel overwhelmed, tense, or stressed out, and it can even help you sleep.
While nothing but time can truly ease your grief, this simple exercise can be helpful. Try it now.