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Box breathing: The Military Secret

In 2012, the New York Times wrote an article, called “The ‘Busy’ Trap”, about how so many of us over-schedule ourselves in order to feel more important or to avoid being alone with our thoughts but our busyness can be self-inflicted. We often take on too much work and other obligations and can let our ambition or drive come before our health.  It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this; it’s something we’re collectively – albeit unknowingly – encouraging each other to do (1).

So, if being too busy – and not challenging ourselves to be more mindful of how we choose to spend our time – is ruining our health, taking time out of our day, even just 2 minutes, to relax, unplug and clear our minds can have enormous benefits.

Box Breathing, otherwise known as Four-Square Breathing or Controlled Breathing, is a great way to reduce stress and to give your mind a break for a few minutes. The Special Forces, public speakers, and surgeons use tactical breathing to help control their thoughts and emotions when faced with challenging situations that obscure their clarity. (2)

HOW DO YOU DO IT?

Box Breathing is a technique where you take slow, deep breaths while counting to four while you breathe in, hold for four, breathe out for four, hold for four.

  • Start by relaxing your whole body and be seated if possible.
  • Sit upright, and then slowly exhale, getting all the oxygen out of your lungs. Really focus on this and be conscious of what you’re doing.
  • Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose to the count of four, very slowly in your head.
  • Feel the coolness of the air you’re breathing in and the way it fills your lungs, one section at a time until they are completely full.
  • Hold your breath for another slow count of four.
  • Exhale through your mouth for the same slow count of four, expelling the air from your lungs and abdomen. Be conscious of the feeling of the air leaving your lungs, how the coolness has become warmth.
  • Then hold your breath for another 4 counts and repeat the whole process again (3).

If you have trouble clearing your thoughts, trying humming in your mind or really focus on the counting.

 

WHEN AND WHERE CAN YOU DO IT?

It’s almost like meditating, and so it works best in a quiet, stress free environment. However if you cannot find a quiet place, it’s something you can easily do with your eyes closed in a quiet spot with your eyes closed, at work or at home or anywhere in between. Give it a go while you’re standing waiting for your kettle to boil, or on the train to work, or in the bathroom before a meeting, or after you park your car, before you head into your office for the day. Repeat your mantra and count to yourself and no one will even notice that you are performing a stress-reduction exercise.

WHY DOES IT WORK?

According to the Mayo Clinic, a medical research clinic in the United States, there is a sufficient amount of evidence to suggest that intentional deep breathing can actually calm and regulate the autonomic nervous system, a system which regulates involuntary body functions like temperature. It can lower blood pressure and provide an almost-immediate sense of calm, and improve your mood. But the benefits of deep breathing also extend beyond in-the-moment stress relief. It’s an exceptional treatment for conditions like generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. It can also help treat insomnia by allowing you to calm your nervous system at night before bed. Box breathing can even help with pain management (4).

References:

  1. https://www.wellandgood.com/good-advice/stop-glorifying-how-busy-you-are/
  2. https://thepreppingguide.com/box-breathing/
  3. https://www.healthline.com/health/box-breathing#tips
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/decrease-stress-by-using-your-breath/art-20267197?pg=2
  5. https://www.livestrong.com/article/225192-sudarshan-kriya-breathing-technique/
  6. https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/?_r=0

 

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Don’t Believe Everything You Think

Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are just that – thoughts” – Allan Lokos, author

Most of us want a mindset that helps us feel good and helps us be productive, kind, helpful and just all-around awesome. But our mindsets are not always an environment of roses and fluffy clouds as we’d like them to be. This is often hard to be aware of and hard to change.

Think of the set in mindset.  It’s rigid, stubborn …. it’s set.

Why does this happen?  It’s a cumulation of past experiences, previous thoughts, relationships, what others have done and said (even as small children), what we’ve seen in the media and what the most important people in our lives have said or done that make up our current mindset. The beliefs, opinions and attitudes that make up our mindset are pretty much hard-wired in us but this hard-wiring can be changed.

There are so many ways to look at a situation, so many different ways to think about the things that happen to you and around you. Remember the story of Pollyanna? She saw the good in everything, even in the worst situations.  The first step is to be aware of your thinking choices.  We have around 50,000-70,000 thoughts a day and many of these are repeated and many not logical.  

Cognitive bias, false assumptions, misinformation, ego and limited beliefs are just a few patterns of unhealthy thought that interfere with our judgement. With a rise in mental health issues worldwide, there are a lot of us out there with unhealthy thought patterns. One in 4 people worldwide are affected by a mental health disorder (1) and 4 million people in Australia are experiencing a Mental Health issues (2) with Tasmania ranking the highest for hospital admissions due to mental health issues.(3) Mental health can be a complex issue.  Having awareness of whether you have a positive or negative mindset can be a help.

If you tell yourself you’re a failure, you believe you’ll never be good enough, you believe that people in the street look at you because they’re judging you, you believe you could never get to where you want to get to – you may want to start challenging these limiting beliefs.  

Here are some tips for rewiring your brain to create a positive mindset – often referred to a ‘growth mindset:

  • Use positive words instead of negative ones. Words create thoughts which create a feeling, so try and keep them positive.
  • Be grateful. Research is showing us that a daily gratitude ritual makes us happier. Add the gratitude ritual on the Ritualize app and make a note of something you are thankful for each day.
  • When talking or thinking about something you’d like to have or do, use aspirational and positive language, for example:
    • Instead of “I can’t run 5km” you’d say “I can’t run 5km yet”
    • I can’t run 5km yet/however I can go swimming more often.
    • I’m not sleeping well YET but it’s something I’m working on.
  • Be empathetic to others. We are often so entrenched in our own beliefs that we don’t see others points of view.

Taking control of your thoughts is the first step to a more positive and happier mindset.  Listen to your thoughts before you react.

 

REFERENCES

http://www.who.int/whr/2001/media_centre/press_release/en/

http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/mf/4364.0.55.001

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-10-14/community-based-care-needed-to-curb-mental-health-hospital-admi/9049808

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Make Stress Your Friend

Our lives are busy juggling work, finances, marriage, kids, family, friends – the list goes on. We are constantly hearing from health experts that stress is bad for us and that we need to be less stressed which, ironically, often makes us feel more stressed. This is making us sick and people are even dying from stress-related diseases.

What if it’s not the stress that’s killing us, but instead it’s our responses and perception of stress that’s killing us? Research is showing that it’s in our body’s natural mechanism to cope with stress, and our reaction and belief around whether stress is a good or bad thing, that is the most harmful to our health.

A popular TED talk by Kelly McGonigal, a Health Psychologist,  “How to make stress your friend” is about approaching stress as helpful rather than being the enemy.

She based her talk on a study of 30,000 people in the US over eight years.  They were asked questions such as “How much stress have you experienced in the past year?” and “Do you believe that stress is harmful to your health?”.  Interestingly, those who expressed a great deal of stress but didn’t view it as a harmful experience had the lowest risk of dying, whereas those who said they had experienced a lot of stress and viewed it as harmful had a 43 percent increased the risk of dying.

McGonigal says if change our mindset and view our responses to stress as helpful to our performance, we will be less stressed out, less anxious, more confident. That pounding heart? It’s preparing you for action. Your increased breathing rate? It’s simply getting more oxygen to your brain. Your body will naturally manage the stress response and calm the nervous system down, as long as you don’t allow yourself to get worked up over a stressful situation.

There’s even a term for ‘good’ stress – Eustress pronounced YOU-stress. It is the type of stress we feel when we are out of our comfort zones, but working towards something bigger or feel excited or challenged in a good way. Eustress provides us with an energy boost to perform challenging activities – especially where we need to focus and put in the extra effort. So, what if you were to consider all stress as Eustress? There’s no difference between Eustress and Distress, other than our reaction to it.

As you can see, how you think about stress matters. The next time you are stressed, stop, take a deep breath and say to yourself “This is my body, rising to the challenge.”

Watch the full Ted Talks here: https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend