Get more from your breathing exercises

You would be amazed by how many people I see who think they are using deep or relaxed breathing techniques but are actually breathing in a really unhelpful way (until I show them how to do it in a more helpful way, that is)!

There are many variations of breathing exercises and techniques and for the most part, it comes down to personal preference as to which ones you use.

I personally don’t like to count or hold my breath in my breathing exercises, but whatever method you choose, it is helpful to notice where the air is going in your lungs.

When we breathe into the top part of the lungs, we are usually taking in slightly more oxygen than we actually need. We tend to breathe into the top part of the lungs without even knowing it when we are rushing around, talking and busy, and for the most part it doesn’t cause a problem.

However, if we are under stress we may breathe like this for most of the time, even when we are inactive or resting. In its extreme form, over-breathing becomes hyperventilation, which is a key component of anxiety and panic attacks.

If we are aiming for relaxation, the most helpful form of breathing is diaphragmatic or ‘deep belly’ breathing in which the air gets down to the lower part of the lungs. As the lower part of the lungs expand, this flattens out the diaphragm – which is the big sheet of muscle that sits underneath the lungs.

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When breathing from the diaphragm, your belly should move more than your chest.

Here are 3 top tips to get the more out of your breathing exercises and to help promote diaphragmatic (or deep belly) breathing.

 

Tip 1: Take slow steady breaths rather than forced or exaggerated breaths.

If you are taking in a forced, sharp or exaggerated in-breath, the air is probably going into the top part of your chest, rather than down into the lower part of your lungs. This can happen even if you are using the ‘in through the nose and out through the mouth’ style of breathing.

Try it now…

See what I mean?

One way you can try getting the air down to the lower part of your lungs by lying on your back, placing a small cushion or light object onto your tummy and watching it move up and down.

 

Tip 2: Keep an open posture

If you are attempting deep belly breathing, it is helpful to have a relaxed and open posture rather than sitting or lying with crossed arms, legs or a hunched body posture.

Likewise, if you are used to holding your stomach in or wearing clothes that suck you in,  relax those stomach muscles, ditch the Spanx and let it all hang out!

 

Tip 3: Practise when you are feeling calm (particularly if you are new to using breathing exercises)

Breathing exercises are very useful to manage stress but the temptation is to use breathing exercises only in response to stress.

If you are a beginner, the best time to practise is actually when you are already feeling calm. This way, you can get into a relaxed breathing rhythm more easily and naturally and notice how it feels.

Some beginners wait until they feel stressed or anxious, try to practise then feel more stressed that they can’t get their breathing exercise to work!

Relaxed breathing can also help to maintain relaxed state and promote wellbeing, so don’t reserve your breathing exercises purely for times of stress.

 

Want to learn more?

Louise from Lemon Squeezy Wellbeing and Jen from Flourish in Mind are teaming up to deliver a new workshop at Hub 26 (off junction 26 of M62 in West Yorkshire).

At our ‘Workplace Wellbeing that Works!’ workshop you can learn what stress is, how to recognise your stress signature and learn tools to manage stress and promote wellbeing, including breathing exercises.

You can find details and tickets here: Workplace Wellbeing that Works!

We look forward to seeing you there!

Louise & Jen

What is meditation?

A lot of people think meditation is about clearing your mind of all thoughts and focusing on nothing. However, as you might imagine, this is incredibly difficult to do!

The truth is that there are many forms of meditation and in most forms of meditation the aim is not to empty your mind altogether, rather it is about focusing your attention in a specific way. Many forms of meditation also involve focusing on the breath at some point within the practice.

In mindfulness meditation, the aim is to focus your attention in the present moment without judgement.

In loving kindness mediation, the aim is to focus on feelings of compassion for yourself and others.

In a guided relaxation practice, you are invited to focus on visualisation within your imagination and to notice what you can see, hear, touch or smell.

Any form of meditation can be beneficial within the workplace as it aids concentration, helps you to quieten down your mental chatter and reduces your body’s stress response, also known as your body’s fight and flight response.

Find out more about the benefits of relaxation for the workplace in this short video!

 

Want to learn how to recognise and manage workplace stress?

Join Flourish in Mind and Lemon Squeezy Wellbeing at our upcoming workshop: Workplace Wellbeing that Works!

There you will learn what stress is, how to recognise your unique stress signature and learn tools to manage workplace stress that can easily fit into your working day.

You will also experience a guided relaxation exercise to develop a visualization practice you can use time and time again at work or at home!

The workshop is developed and run by Jen Rawlinson bringing expert knowledge as a Mental Health First Aid trainer and Louise Aaron an experienced Cognitive Behavioural Therapist.

Find out more and get your ticket here:Workplace Wellbeing that Works!

We look forward to meeting you there!

Jen & Louise

The Impact of an Emotionally Demanding Job Role

Every now and then in my role as a psychotherapist, a client will comment with something along the lines of ‘I don’t know how you can listen to people’s problems all day’, or ‘do you ever take your work home with you?’

Perhaps you have had similar comments if you work in an emotionally demanding job role? I could imagine people expressing a similar sentiment towards nurses, teachers, carers, social workers, police officers or any job role involving heavy emotional demands on top of practical demands and more routine day to day tasks of the job.

The truth for me is that sometimes it can be difficult to listen to people in distress all day. When you step back and think about it, it isn’t really a ‘normal’ thing to do with your time!

Nor is it really a ‘normal’ thing to see physical injury and pain all day if you are a nurse working in A&E, or to deal with challenging behaviour all day if you are a police officer or deal with high risk situations all the time if you are a social worker.

The kind of situations you are exposed to on a regular basis when you are in an emotionally demanding role are not common experiences for the majority of people outside your particular profession.

But when emotional demands are a part of your ordinary day to day experience, it can be easy to forget that it isn’t really the norm.

 

A biased view

I remember early on in my career when I was a Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner with a heavy caseload of people with panic disorder and agoraphobia, I went out one evening to a comedy gig and I was struck by the thought, ‘Wow! Look at all these people who don’t mind crowds!’

It would be easy for me to conclude from my experience at work that everyone has a mental health difficulty and is struggling with anxiety or low mood. Indeed, many people are, but not everyone is!

I can imagine it would be easy to think of most people as being dishonest if you work in the police force, or over-estimating the likelihood of accidents, illness and injuries if you work in healthcare, or any number of other biases we could form, simply through being exposed to similar issues most of the time.

Of course, we can challenge our biases if we recognise them, by taking notice of people, situations or experiences that offer a different perspective. The key thing is recognising your biases in the first place.

 

Losing compassion?

A friend recently told me of an experience with a healthcare professional who made a rather blunt and uncompassionate comment about the prognosis of her health problem. This was a number of years ago and the professional has no doubt forgotten ever having made the comment but it was something that caused a great deal of fear for my friend for many years.

Of course, we are all human and we will all make offhand comments from time to time. Perhaps this professional was simply having a bad day. However, when you encounter the same problem hundreds of times at work, it can be easy to forget that it is perhaps the first time for the person with the problem.

For the clients who come to see me in my role as a psychotherapist, I actively remind myself that their appointments are a really big deal! Particularly at their first appointment; they may have been nervous about it for days.

Of course, you don’t need to have experienced something in order to empathise with it, but I believe that experiencing therapy as the client has been a helpful reminder for me to be more aware of what it is like in the other chair.

The importance of compassion and empathy is not lost on the vast majority of people working in an emotionally demanding role. I would like to hope that for most of us, we do show compassion, most of the time.

But what if we feel like we can’t? What about when the emotional demands become overwhelming or exhausting? If you are finding it increasingly difficult to empathise in your job role, it may be a sign of compassion fatigue.

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Compassion fatigue

Compassion fatigue is a term used to describe the negative emotional cost of caring for others – something synonymous with emotionally demanding job roles. Compassion fatigue may look like stress, emotional exhaustion or burnout but it can also include symptoms of secondary trauma.

You can find more information about compassion fatigue from the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project here: http://www.compassionfatigue.org/index.html

And a great blog about preventing compassion fatigue from Good Therapy here: https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/the-cost-of-caring-10-ways-to-prevent-compassion-fatigue-0209167

 

How to reduce the impact of an emotionally demanding role

In my view, one of the key things for us if we are in an emotionally demanding role is to be in touch with our own emotions. If we are avoiding our emotions, numbing out or unable to recognise how we feel it will be more difficult to manage our own emotions in a helpful way.

Self-care is also key. Spending time building our emotional resources, engaging in enjoyable activity, taking breaks, using relaxation and connecting with others is important to maintain your wellbeing when the emotional demands on you are high.

Use grounding techniques throughout the day while you are at work. Grounding is a simple and effective way of re-connecting with the present moment and it doesn’t need to take a lot of time to do, so it can be easy to fit in even on a busy working day.

Allow others to care for you. When you are in a helping role, you can often get used to putting other people’s needs before your own. Maybe you see yourself as the helper and find it difficult to accept help from others? I know this was true for me and it took me a long time to accept that I sometimes need a bit of help too. It may sound silly, but by asking for help I learned that help… actually helps! We are all human and it is OK to seek out help and support. Even if you are usually the helper.

Practice self-compassion. Self-compassion isn’t simply about letting yourself off the hook. It is about developing an attitude of kindness, wisdom and forgiveness towards yourself. It is about acknowledging that you are human, recognising your needs and developing an attitude of acceptance towards yourself. If you are not used to showing yourself compassion, this can take time and regular practice. You can find some helpful resources to get you started here: https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/Resources/Looking-After-Yourself/Self-Compassion

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If your workplace involves a high level of emotional demands, you can find out about wellbeing workshops in the Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees areas here:

Workplace Sessions

 

Image Credit: Pixabay

 

Failure or Fail-yeah!

So this is me at my first relaxation class today…

..and here is everyone else!

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Yep, just me then!

Epic. Fail.

It is probably fair to say that most people don’t like the idea of failing or enjoy the experience of failing. It is probably even fairer to say that we all fail at something from time to time.

So how can we bounce back and turn failure into fail-yeah?
Ditch the dwelling

When you dwell on past failures you are usually trying to learn from the experience or to motivate yourself to do better next time. The problem is that this doesn’t work!

When we think repetitively about something that has already happened, we tend to think ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’ , ask impossible ‘why’ questions and then criticise or berate ourselves for getting it wrong.
We zoom in on the negatives because they represent a threat (and our fight and flight response loves zooming in on a threat) and all we end up ‘learning’ is that we are not good enough end up feeling less motivated than ever.

 

How to ditch the dwelling

Grounding yourself back in the present is a good place to start.

Notice where you are, what you can see, hear, touch, smell and taste.
This helps your brain to know ‘that was then, and this is now’.

Watch out for hindsight bias

This is a bias in which you imagine you could have foreseen an event before it happened.

You might mistakenly believe you had the information or experience that you have now. You might think something like ‘I really should have seen the warning signs’ or ‘how did I not see this coming?’

You are not a fortune teller!

You can only work with the information and resources you have at the time, which is what you did.

Remember the context
People can often take on 100% responsibility for an outcome when there were far more factors at work.
What were they? Be fair to yourself.

What did you gain?

This isn’t about putting on rose tinted glasses but it is about seeing it from a more constructive perspective.

If your relationship failed, did you learn that you could do things on your own you didn’t realise you could do?
If you failed an exam or dropped out of a course, did it give you more time to understand it fully or give you an opportunity to take stock of what you really want?
If nobody attended your first relaxation class, did you gain a bit of time to write a blog post or learn what to do differently next time!?
Re-frame

If you try more things, you are bound to fail at some of them.
Are you a failure or a trier?
If you go on dates, you are bound to encounter rejection.
Are you bad at dates or a person who is open to the possibility of romance?
Does everyone who succeeds actually have to fail a few times first?
Which way of viewing it is going to result in you feeling better, trying again and ultimately succeeding?

 

And if you don’t fancy trying any of that, you can always read the sign above your head…

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All the people at my relaxation class today gave me an awesome review!

If you would like to find out more about relaxation sessions or wellbeing workshops for your employees, you can check out workplace sessions for Bradford, Calderdale & Kirklees.

You Don’t Work Better Under Pressure

No really! You don’t!

It seems to be such a commonly held belief that pressure improves performance. If you are among the many people who hold this to be true, here is why I think you are performing despite pressure, rather than because of pressure.

When you perceive any threat (such as a looming deadline or negative consequences of under-performing), your body’s fight & flight response is activated.

When you are in this response, your body is geared up for running away from a physical danger or fighting a threat.

Even if you can’t actually run away or fight the threat, your body responds as if you can. This is why we experience physical symptoms of stress, such as a racing heart, shortness of breath and muscle tension. All of these physical changes would be really helpful if you did need to run or fight.

 

The fight & flight response makes it difficult to conentrate

Have you ever been trying very hard to concentrate and the harder you try and the more pressure you put yourself under, the more easily distracted you feel?

This is because we go into scan-mode in order to spot danger and run away from it. This would be very helpful if you were an early human at risk of being eaten by a predator!

What this usually means for us today is that it is very difficult to focus and concentrate on a task when you are feeling under pressure.

As far as your body is concerned, if you start concentrating on something like your laptop, a predator could sneak up on you and eat you!

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The fight & flight response makes it difficult to think straight

Have you ever been in an exam and as soon as you get out of the exam room you think of all the things you should have written about? Or you figure out what you should have said in an interview on the way home in the car?

In the fight & flight response, the body and brain’s resources are diverted to where they are going to be most helpful for getting out of danger. In your body, your blood is diverted away from areas like the digestive system towards the big muscles in your arms and legs.

If you were running away or fighting you need your arms and legs to be functioning at their best – you don’t need to be eating a massive sandwich.

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Just as your resources are diverted in your body, they are also diverted in the brain.

Your brain activity is diverted away from the pre-frontal cortex when you are in the fight & flight response. This area of the brain is where all your higher cognitive function happens such as problem solving, reasoning and planning.  Instead, your brain is more active in the emotion (namely fear) centres of the brain.

As far as your body is concerned, you don’t need to be coming up with the theory of relativity while you are running away any more than you need to be eating a massive sandwich!

It is physically harder to think when you are under pressure!

When the pressure is gone, you can more easily access the pre-frontal cortex again which is why you suddenly remember everything after you have stepped out of the exam or the interview room.

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We tend to misattribute what has worked for us

It is more difficult to perform under pressure but this is not to say that you can’t perform under pressure. So maybe you are thinking:

  • ‘Yeah but I did well in my exams’
  • ‘Yeah but I got the job when I was under pressure in the interview’
  • ‘Yeah but I met the deadline when I needed to’

If you have had success following a time of high pressure and stress, it is easy to view this as cause and effect. But maybe this isn’t actually the case. Maybe you did well despite the pressure rather than because of the pressure.

What if you could have got the same result or better and felt better in the process by taking some of the pressure off?

Can you think of a time when you didn’t care so much and didn’t put yourself under pressure and performed better than you expected to?

 

Relaxation can be a great way to calm the fight & flight response and taking breaks can help you to reduce the pressure you put on yourself.

Why not give it a try and find out if you really do work better under pressure?

If your workplace could benefit from an emotional resource building workshop, check out sessions here: Guided Relaxation & Workshops
You can find details of public events here.
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