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Learn & Practice

Tuesday Tip: Quiet Your Mind with Your Breath

By The Healthy Minds Team

In this week’s Tuesday Well-Being Tip, how to use breath when your mind is overwhelmed and in need of a break.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Even if you’ve been developing consistent well-being habits, there are always those days that can feel like a setback. Those days where the mind is noisy and stuck on a loop of rumination or catastrophic thought. You might be focused on replaying the past or negatively predicting the future. Intellectually, you know you should be present – but the cycle feels out of control.

The tip for today is the one from the beginning: Just breathe.

Despite our best efforts, there can be moments of unpredictability. It’s perfectly normal that when things get stressful, most of us get caught up in our thoughts. The storyline in our minds takes over and starts to play on a 24/7 loop.

When things go horribly wrong, the breath can be one of our greatest allies. In fact, sometimes all we can do is breathe.

The trick is to notice when you’re getting stuck in your head and re-route your attention to the breath. Mind scattered? Return to the breath. Feel like you’re going to have a moment of emotional reactivity (angry, scared, upset)? Return to the breath. 

The breath doesn’t just distract your attention, it provides space for an emotion or reaction to ease. And when things seem overwhelming and all consuming, the breath has a way of loosening things up so that they don’t seem quite so heavy. Shallow breathing limits the diaphragm’s range of motion which can make you feel short of breath and anxious. But  lengthening the breath encourages full oxygen exchange and it can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure.

A few ways to foster the breath in this manner:

  • Counting: Breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, breathe out for 8 counts. Repeat.

  • Present breathing: Inhale deeply, filling the chest and lungs up with air, and then release a very slow out breath so you can feel the sensations of breath as it’s released.

Even in the most overwhelming of situations you can use your breath to stay grounded. Next time you find yourself spinning, take a moment and quiet the mind with the breath. You’ll get some space and stop the cycle of negative thoughts. Good luck.

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