Did you know that the way you breathe has a huge impact on how your feel emotionally? It's true!
If you put one hand on your chest and one hand on your lower abdomen and take a deep breath, what do you notice about which hand moves first? Was it the hand on your chest or the one on your belly?
One of the quickest and simplest ways of feeling better, calmer, and happier is by breathing in such a way that it activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which impacts your heart rate, blood pressure, and digestion. It also facilitates a better balance between the oxygen and the carbon dioxide in your system.
Abdominal breathing, or "Belly breathing" is that kind of breathing. If you felt the hand on your lower abdomen move first, then you were doing the kind of breathing that can help you feel calmer and happier. It's what I believe is power breathing.
On the other hand, shallow breathing, or chest breathing can lead to panic attacks or make you hyperventilate. If the hand on your chest is what moved first, and if you experience anxiety or have panic attacks, the two could be connected. A woman I worked with years ago started seeing me for counseling because she was having panic attacks. Once she learned to do abdominal breathing and she started practicing it regularly, she never had another one! Here is a simple strategy of working with your breath that, while it won't solve a problem you may be experiencing, it can help you feel calmer and happier.
So, try this...
Lay down flat on your back. Put a pillow under your knees but don't put one under your head. Put your hands back in the same position, one on your chest and one on your lower belly. Now take another deep breath and notice which hand moves first. It will probably be the hand on your belly because it's almost impossible to breathe incorrectly when you are lying down.
Try that again, but this time, inhale through your nose slowly and deeply as you count in your mind from 1 to 4. Hold your breath for 4 more counts, and then slowly exhale through your mouth as you count backwards in your mind from 8 to 1.
Great! Now let's add some pictures to this.
Do another slow, deep breath the same way as above, but this time, when you inhale, imagine your body becoming like a balloon that is full of air. Then as you exhale, imagine your body is like a balloon with a slow leak. Let your whole body become like that balloon that is slowly losing air and becoming soft...
Do another slow, deep breath the same way, but change the picture. Have you ever made a bed, and when you threw the top sheet across the bed, all 4 corners just happened to go where they were supposed to go? Now there is air between the mattress and the sheet, and the sheet seems to just float down till it finally lays flat on the bed. That's the picture you want to hold in your mind as you exhale. Imagine your body being like that sheet floating down slowly...
Do one more slow, deep breath in the same manner, but change the picture one more time. Have you ever taken a piece of plastic kitchen wrap, like Saran Wrap, and wadded it up into a tight little ball, then set it down and watched it slowly, slowly, slowly begin to unfold? This time as you exhale, imagine your body slowly unfolding in the same way...
Which picture worked the best for you? Using that picture, do the breathing exercise 2-3 times a day and notice if you see an increase in feelings of well-being. The difference you notice might be strong or it might be subtle, but you will be training your body and mind to feel better and be happier. (If you are a person who greatly fears letting go and relaxing, this might be an exercise to skip, though.)
Doing the Subjective Units of Distress score before and after (0 - 10, with 0 being, "I feel no distressing feelings," and 10 being, "I'm feeling the most distressing feelings I can imagine.") can help you more easily notice the impact of this exercise on your feelings of well-being and happiness.