The Case for Taking a Deep Breath

How long since you were last told to take a deep breath? The action is synonymous with calming yourself down, cooling your jets and giving yourself a little mental space before having to make your next move. Similar to counting from 10 to 1, taking a deep breath is meant to allow us a little chill.

If you’ve ever been to a yoga or meditation class, taken a singing lesson or played a musical instrument I have little doubt you would have been told to breathe into your belly – filling yourself with air.

Shallow breathing, the type that makes our shoulders rise and fall, is not helpful – in fact  it increases our anxiety and can raise the heart rate as our brain reacts to the stimuli of rapid breathing – danger – panic – adrenaline…RUN. Sending your brain into fight or flight through shallow breathing is the opposite of the result you were no doubt after by consciously breathing.

Researchers at Stanford have recently found a correlation with breathing and activity in higher order brain functions, and realised that alertness, attention, and stress were affected on a neurological level through taking a deep breath. This is pretty groundbreaking – it means there is a neurochemical reason why taking a deep breath helps our state of mind, which also means we can replicate a state of calm.

So, next time your brain is whirring into overdrive; focus, and breathe deep.


Further Reading

The Inside Story of How Slow Breathing Calms You Down on Psychology Today


Can Happiness Come From Living Locally?

It’s pretty well understood that dwelling on negative ideas can lead to feelings of hopelessness and apathy. Climate change communicators struggle with engaging people – the balance between presenting the problem (and, let’s be real – it’s a globalgut-clenchingly scary one) and helping the rest of us feel like there is actually something we can do about it is challenging, at best.

Living simply has consistently been shown to have a lower impact on the world than the more modern, materialistic, keeping up with the Joneses approach. People are taking time to learn old fashioned skills; living more frugally and using less resources in the process. The motivations for these actions are varied – some make a conscious change, others can’t afford to live large.

A huge benefit of living in this way is community engagement. By living with a more local focus, reducing our footprint and learning more about our immediate surroundings we give ourselves the chance to connect with people who have similar interests and values. In this way we curate our world to have a positive focus, surrounding ourselves with hope; a combination of agency and the pathways we can use to make a change happen.

The added bonus of having positive influences in our lives is that our brain is primed to be open to more ideas and pathways when we have positive experiences, so surrounding yourself with a sustainable ‘tribe’ who have hope for the future can affect both your impact on the environment as well as your ability to have positive emotions.

So, ride a bike to your next event (enjoy the dopamine and serotonin hit from the physical exercise), get your hands dirty gardening, chat to some like minded people and take positive action. Enjoy discovering the positive environmental change you can make in the world!

Further Reading:

The Stone in Your Pocket

Recently for a work activity I had to think of an adversity I had faced in my life. On the surface this seems like a fairly simple task. Challenge is, after all, part of the human condition.

Without adversity we wouldn’t grow and develop as people. Without setbacks we wouldn’t have to re-evaluate our trajectory, finding innovative solutions to what may have appeared complex problems.

Studies have shown that the ability to access multiple pathways to a solution is crucial to having hope. Without adversity there would be no need to develop this ability, and thus no ability to develop hope.

And yet.

Despite the apparent simplicity of the task – think of an adversity – I struggled. I flipped through my mental file of recent challenges…parking fines, work-life imbalance, time spent commuting…and I realised none of them really fit the bill for capital A adversity.

I went further back in my mind – struggling to dredge up pain from years past, to find this adversity which I knew must be lurking.

And I realised something I already knew.

Capital A adversities, the big ones, the ones which change the trajectory of our lives and personalities and our ability to comprehend ourselves as a person within this world, after a time they become so much of our personality they cease to carry pain.

Without these scary-big-huge-enormous life-changing challenges we have all faced at some points in our lives, we wouldn’t be who we are. Without my history of adversity I wouldn’t have the empathy I do. I wouldn’t have the resilience I am proud of. I wouldn’t have the calm ability to re-set and re-evaluate. I wouldn’t feel the freedom I do to make my world my own, not someone else’s expectation of correct path or *right* way.

When we face an adversity it becomes part of us. It is a stone we carry in our pocket. Sometimes that stone is heavy, particularly initially. Sometimes we forget it’s there. Sometimes we take it out and examine it, look at it from a different angle, with new information.

Image result for hope rockI think, if we are lucky; if we have the right people around us, or we have enough of the right sort of information, challenges teach us how to hope. They teach us that with skill or time or luck or persistence, bad things can become good.

If the conditions are poor; a lack of support, without the mental capacity to cope, these stones can weigh us down pretty quickly.

I am lucky. Despite the stones I am carrying in my pocket, I was lucky to have the right words said, the right people close, the right school or books or movies or thoughts to help ensure that these capital A adversities are now a familiar part of who I am.

They are not my whole story. But they are a part of who I am. Without them, my life wouldn’t be what it is.

So, despite the weight, the burden, the potentially painful re-evaluation of who I am today and how or whether my life would be different without these stones in my pocket, sometimes I pull them out and have another look at them. It reminds me that future challenges will eventually join them, and I will be a richer, more nuanced person for the experience.

“Never to suffer would never to have been blessed.”
― Edgar Allan Poe

Weekend Rituals

Here in my sunny loungeroom, the dogs and I have a bit of a weekend ritual. While I do my best to sleep in and catch up from the busy week, I find my body clock usually first pings my eyes open sometime in the 7’s…then as much as I try to find sleep again, I usually give up within the hour. Coffee and cooked breakfast – I love taking the time to make delicious and time-consuming weekend food (this morning was mushroom omlette with some leftover avocado), then we head to our east-facing lounge to sit in the sun.

This morning I washed the small black dog before cooking, as she’d found something particularly chunky to roll in overnight, and so she snuggled into me in a post-bath sulk. As she slowly warmed up in the sun, I stumbled around the internet, seeing what was going on in the world and generally putting off the list of chores that inevitably seem to land on Saturday’s doorstep.

It’s lovely to take the time to wake up slowly, to be able to savour  the calm of the morning before having to face the day. A second coffee or a pot of tea usually follows the first, and I fight the looming sensation of ‘you should‘.

Just for a little bit of time, on a Saturday morning, there is no should. No responsibility. No tasks to take priority. This afternoon will roll around…I will go for a run, start my assignment, research some ideas. All the inevitability of achievement and effort will happen in time.

But for now, I am enjoying the sun, my dog, and the absence of should.

Happy weekend.