Just Breathe...

I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that stress has been a significant part of locking down. I have even recognized the different phases of my stress/mood during this pandemic. As everyone was first locking down, I felt stressed that I would be unable to manage the isolation. Then, as I grew accustomed to our locked-down life, I felt stressed about the idea of returning to the same pace of life pre-COVID. Now, I feel stressed about the fall and my kids' transitions to school, one to middle school for the first time. This, on top of my ever-growing pile of work that regularly competes with my kids' needs. Stress, stress, stress.

Now, not *all* stress is bad. A "healthy" level of stress can push us to study harder for an exam or go the extra mile to prepare for a big presentation. It's the long-lasting chronic stress we need to pay attention to. That chronic stress can do a number on our health and wellness by disrupting many of our body's systems: immune, GI, cardiovascular, sleep, and reproductive. It can lead to mental health challenges. And, of course, proper nutrition may also fall victim to stress, as many of us over- or undereat during times of stress.

So, what should we do? There are number of things we can do: exercise, seek professional help, and stay connected with family and friends. But, there's one thing we can do right now or in any moment in time. We can breathe.

I know this may sound silly or ineffective to some, but there is science behind the benefits of intentional and deep breathing. Because it's intentional, deep breathing requires concentration on some level, so it helps clear your mind of distracting (maybe stressful??) thoughts. It also encourages full oxygen exchange - more useful oxygen in, and more unneeded CO2 out. Lastly, deep breathing can lower blood pressure, an obvious benefit.

So, go ahead and give it a shot. Start by timing your breathing. Take five or six seconds for every inhale and exhale you take for a minute or two. Do this several times a day. Hard to remember? Set a few alarms. And if you have an Apple Watch, this breathing activity is built right in. If silence isn't your bag, listen to relaxing music. Think this doesn't work? Think again. Check out this study that compared the effect of music vs. medication. It found that music had the same benefit as medication but without the side effects. This teeny, tiny activity will literally take just a minute or two of your day, and your mind and body will thank you.

Be well!

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