Self-Care 101: Mindful Deep Breathing

Aerobics class practising deep breathing for relaxation lying on their backs on their mats on the floor with focus to a young African American woman in the foreground Research has shown that one of the best ways to combat stress and compassion fatigue is with self-care. What we also know if that those of us involved in animal welfare or other helping professions tend to put the needs of others first — so much so that we often have nothing left to give ourselves. Also, because many of us who live in Western society tend to ruminate about the past or worry about the future, we rarely live in the present. The following exercise can help you do just that, plus tackle stress and anxiety. It’s something you can do almost anytime, anywhere — in the morning, on your lunch break, or just before bed. Before you begin, let’s test your breathing style. Place one hand on your stomach and the other hand on your chest. Take a deep breath in and notice which raises first, your chest or your stomach? By breathing in through your chest, your body assumes it’s in fight or flight mode, causing anxiety. By breathing in through your belly, on the other hand, your brain will get more oxygen, triggering the relaxation response. Now give this mindful deep breathing exercise a try:
  • Sit or lie down in a comfortable position and close your eyes.
  • Begin by taking a deep breath in through your nose. Notice the sensation of the air flowing in and out. Try to exhale a second or two longer than you inhale. So breathe in for three seconds, breathe out for four to five seconds.
  • As you begin to breath deeper, notice how the air fills your belly first and then your chest. As you slowly exhale, notice how the air leaves your chest first and then your belly.
  • If you notice any thoughts coming to mind, try not to judge them or force them out. Instead, just notice them, and bring your mind back to your breathing. You may find it helpful to imagine the thoughts coming and going like a wave, or floating by on clouds.
  • You may start to notice your surroundings – the temperature of the room, the ticking of a clock, the rumble of traffic outside, the feel of your body against the chair. Again, without judgment, simply notice these sensations, and then gently bring your mind back to your breathing.
  • Now try to slow your breathing down a bit further. Slowly count to yourself with each inhalation and exhalation. One, two, three, four… feel your body relax even more with each breath.
  • When you feel comfortable, open your eyes. Take notice of how your body feels.
  • To get the maximum benefit, try to practice your deep breathing for 10-20 minutes each day.