“Slow breathing is like an anchor in the midst of an emotional storm: the anchor won’t make the storm go away, but it will hold you steady until it passes.” Russ Harris
Just breathe was the advice my brother gave me every time we talked in the early days following my husband asking for a divorce. Of course, I was breathing, but stress causes us to breathe shallower and quicker. When we are faced with a difficult situation, we tense up and move into a reaction known as ‘fight or flight’. This is appropriate when we are facing a threat like being robbed at gunpoint, but the all-day everyday pressure we face in today’s culture has made us a society of shallow breathers.
For our early ancestors, breathing shallowly in the face of danger made sense as they wanted to save their breath to run – should they need to – or do battle with a foe. For us, when we get an adversarial email from the ex, running may feel good, but it won’t solve the issue. Going through a divorce is rarely a calm and easy process where everyone is acting fair and reasonably. You will find yourself even tenser, stressed, and perhaps even feeling a little crazy (some days a lot crazy).
Going through a divorce is likely to be one of the most stressful things most people will experience. The Holmes and Rahe stress scale rates the stress of divorce second only to the death of a spouse. This massive change and uncertainty is also likely to include other items on the stress scale like change in financial means and change in living circumstances. The loss of someone who was once the most important person in your life is a deep wound that isn’t easy to move past.
Slowly and Deeply
When we breathe slowly and deeply our body realizes the ‘threat’ is not imminent and relaxes. Oxygen also allows us to think clearly and not from a place of fear. This is why most meditation practices include breathing practices to calm us. A simple favorite of mine is box breathing: breath in for four, hold for four, out for four, pause for four. To increase its impact further, imagine something you find soothing, i.e. sitting by a waterfall or petting a puppy. Alternately, focus intently on an object or a spot on the wall.
The benefits range from increasing attention to lowering physical and emotional pain. Anyone who has gone through Lamaze training knows that breathing exercises during labor help to manage pain. Breathing slowly and deeply slows the heartbeat and stabilizes blood pressure. It has also been found to decrease the amount of cortisol, a stress hormone is released into your body. It seems so simple and yet is very effective.
During the divorce journey, you are likely to find yourself in a lot of situations that cause your blood to boil. It is also a time of great misery, fear, and frustration. Taking a second to breathe deeply is a handy trick to keep things under control and most people won’t even realize you are doing anything differently. Calming oneself through deep breathing helps us to realize that truly nothing horrible is happening to us right now and allows us to make healthy, well-reasoned choices that will benefit us in the long term.
A Harvard medical school study says of deep breathing, “Reawakening it allows you to tap one of your body’s strongest self-healing mechanisms.” So, if you ever thought of introducing a mediation practice in your life, now is a perfect time. However, if you feel you just don’t have the time, just breathe.