Practice Slow Breathing BEFORE the Holidays

Medical and mental health professionals often tell us to breathe deeply and slowly to get through a painful experience, or to reduce stress. And that’s good advice.

But what they don’t tell you is this: You don’t get the full benefit unless you practice ahead of time.

Our bodies, including the suggestible nervous system, are conditioned by repetition. With regular practice before we need it, we gradually learn how to respond with calm when called upon to do so.

Fire drills shouldn’t be triggered by fires. And slow breathing shouldn’t just be triggered by stress, overwhelm or downright panic.

If we try to induce relaxation through breathing only when we’re already stressed, we may condition ourselves to associate intentional breathing with stress instead of relief.

Regular, mindful breathing in relatively peaceful times, before there’s an emergency, can add up to a big difference when the chips are down.

All muscles require training over time to become strong and reliable. So think of your breathing practice as building your “breathing muscles.” 

How to Do It

Here’s one simple way to practice mindful breathing daily, so you can “bank” that calm for the holiday season…

1. Breathing through your nose, take a slow breath in, allowing your stomach to expand more than your chest, then

2. Exhale slowly through either the nose or pursed lips, making sure your exhale is longer than your inhale. Relax as you breathe out.

3. Repeat as desired.

Take just one breath like this, whenever you think of it. Each slow, relaxed breath is an act of self-care.

To easily create a regular practice and reap powerful long-term benefits, pair this type of breathing with ordinary activities. E.g., Take a slow, relaxed breath right before getting out of bed, just when you reach for your toothbrush, or every time you pass through a doorway, check the fridge or get in the car. 

The more of these slow breaths you take, the more you’ll want to take. Over time, this simple practice can build a habit of relaxation and a feeling of calm to call upon when times are tough.

(If you find that slow breathing and relaxation increase anxiety, you’re not alone and there’s surely a good reason. You might consider working with a somatic therapist or other licensed mental health professional to gently develop your relaxation skills.)

For more on getting getting through the holidays during estrangement from your adult child(ren), check out some of the following resources. Again, do it before you need them:

Make a Detailed Plan to Get Through Special Days

RC Podcast Episode 107: Staying Present In Their Absence

Inviting Estranged Adult Children Home For the Holidays

Healthy Giving

It’s Okay to Enjoy Yourself When Your Adult Child Is Estranged

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