If we’re being honest, sometimes the idea of managing stress makes us stressed. So many self-care books on our shelves, so many self-care tips and tricks populating our social feeds…all seemingly promising a magic bullet to a more serene life. But it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the volume of it all, they actually feel frequent reminders of what we’re not doing. So, what do we do amidst the overwhelm?
Dr. Belisa Vranich is a clinical psychologist and an expert in mental health and fitness. She’s also the author of Breathe: The Simple, Revolutionary 14-Day Program to Improve your Mental and Physical Health. It is her approach that we continue to return to when looking for instant relief from stress.
Unlike journals, products, therapy—any external item really—our breath is always accessible. It is (for the most part) within our control, and the act and art of learning to optimize it feels like a self-help victory in and of itself. In Breathe, Dr. Vranich writes that “breathing exercises can energize you better than a Red Bull, put you to sleep better than an Ambien. They are the No. 1 antidote for stress: lowering your blood pressure, cortisol, and neutralizing your acidity in minutes.”
Breathwork is the perfect practice for Seven Minutes. It costs nothing and can be done anywhere. And there’s a simple test to see if breathwork is right for you: stop reading right now and inhale. What happened? Chances are, your belly went in, your chest puffed out, your shoulders started to rise, and you became tense. Though commonplace, these motions are wrong and do not serve you. Try this exercise instead:
On the inhale, your diaphragm – your belly – should actually puff out. You should push the stomach out on the inhale, fill it, and then slowly contract it back.
On the Exhale, blow out of your mouth as if you are blowing out a candle. Make a noise with the air hitting the back of your teeth (“psst”). Make sure your body is narrowing on the exhale.
Repeat 3 or 4 times for the initial effect, building your way up to longer intervals. The idea is to exaggerate the inhale and exhale, intentionally avoiding short breaths in and out, which don’t calm or serve the body.
Because really, self-care doesn’t have to be a hard-earned gift. The simple act of breathing provides internal calm, quiet and then a shift. Everything is reframed, more seems possible, and within reach.