There is a feeling I get that when I feel stuck – figuratively and literally. I feel it when I’m stuck in traffic and can’t move or when I’m trapped in a conversation with someone that I would really like to exit. I feel it when I have too much to do and no way to actually get it all done or when I know my connecting flight has a very, very short turn around and it seems like the flight attendants just won’t close the door on my departing plane.
My heartbeat rapidly gains speed, my pits sweat, my ears ring and my inner child just basically has a meltdown all while attempting to keep my poker face. I have come to call this feeling The Pedals because it so distinctly feels like I have one foot exuberantly and whole-heartedly pushed down on the gas pedal while my other foot completely and anxiously slams on the break pedal. Inside, my wheels spin in place while my engine roars and rumbles.
One does not need to be an expert to know that when The Pedals are engaged my stress level, along with all of its toxic consequences, is full speed ahead. What I really need to do is chill the f@$& out! Clearly! But how? I cannot leave my car idling in traffic to go out for a jog allowing the endorphin high to override my stress then stroll back and calmly resume my traffic jam. Nor can I bust into Fire Breathing or Downward Dog while a person starts, maintains, and completes a conversation I am uncomfortable with. And certainly, while trapped on an airplane in the economy seat where I can’t recline without having the person behind me swallow their tray-table – I can not lie flat, take in soft tunes, and have a deep tissue massage (Wouldn’t that be nice!). I can, however, use one of the most powerful and potent stress relieving techniques available, the one that is, literally, right under my nose – My Breath. I can breathe deeply. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. Pedals – Be gone!
As with so many things we humans get involved with, we’ve made breathing complicated – leaving us, in our times of distress, asking:
- Do I inhale with my nose or mouth?
- What about exhaling – nose or mouth?
- How long do I hold the breath – 5 seconds, 7 seconds, the same about of time as the inhalation?
- How long should the exhalation be?
- How many times am I suppose to do this?
- Should I be closing one of my nostrils?
I am no breathing expert, so take this as you will, but I say simply breathe deep – Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. I don’t believe our breath needs an instruction kit or guru to do its job. Keep it simple and use it often.
Deep breathing alerts our superhero parasympathetic nervous system to activate it’s anti-fight or flight serum – in essence, calming down our sympathetic nervous system. Our deep breathing also gets our vagas nerve involved, lowering our blood pressure and heart rate, while focusing our energy and inducing calmness (Benson, 2009).
My new anti-pedal medicine is the following mantra accompanied by deep breaths:
I’m returning to my body. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.
Tiffany is a writer, teacher, resiliency consultant, and professional life coach.
Contact her at www.evolutionary-consulting.com
Evolutionary Consulting. Neuroscience for everyday people.
Benson M.D., H. (2009). The Relaxation Response (Reissue Edition ed.). New York, New York: HarperCollings Publishing.