Healthy Mind

Breath is the answer

Written by Healthy Living

Helpful ways to fight depression.

Story: Paola Collazos 

Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain were not alone. About 44,965 Americans die by suicide each year, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. How could such successful individuals have made this decision? What were their internal struggles?

If I struggle with lows sometimes and have all the tools in the world to help manage them, imagine those who do not have any tools? How are they getting by? How are the people who are not celebrities getting by?”  

Working in the health profession as a massage therapist and yoga teacher, I often feel the pressure of having to portray a confident, zen attitude. This is not always the case for me or anyone. Nonetheless, I must show up, be present, and give others my all. I recognize that people who work in any field must show up.  

Perhaps the more connected we become on social media, the more disconnected we become socially. Maybe our struggles go unnoticed by professionals and loved ones, or could it be that we are no longer in tune with the simplicity of nature?

Whatever the case may be, I believe we need to take a pause and go back to simplicity. We must go back to love, closeness, and take the time to listen and be kind to others. We must notice and offer help when we see signs of withdrawal or discontentment in others.  

When I think of the word “love” in its purest form, I think about infinite unconditional love, and the most natural act of love one can do for themselves is to take a deep breath when they are feeling anxious, sad, or stressed. Oxygen is unconditional love, for it is always there to sustain us.  

Here is an exercise that I teach clients:

  • Close your eyes and inhale. Open eyes, exhale for three counts.
  • Touch thumb to index finger, inhale, exhale for three counts.
  • Thumb to middle finger, inhale, exhale for three counts. 
  • Thumb to ring finger, inhale, exhale for three counts.
  • Thumb to pinky, inhale, exhale for three counts.
  • Repeat for three to seven rounds. You can start with three rounds and increase the series as one sees fit.  

Closing our eyes and taking a deep cleansing breath, making sure that the exhale is longer than the inhale, helps calm the nervous system by activating the vagus nerve, which sends a signal to the brain telling it to hike up the parasympathetic nervous system and turn down the sympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system controls our rest and digest. It lowers our blood pressure and heart rate, while the sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our fight-or-flight response. When we are under stress, the sympathetic nervous system is triggered, filling our bodies with cortisol (stress hormones), speeding up our heart rates and breathing patterns in preparation for flight, and sometimes even breaking down our digestive system and other systems.  

This response is not particularly helpful in the modern world. We are not being chased by wild animals; instead, our stressors are not that life-threatening, but the culmination of several little stressors per day over time is clearly taking a toll on us.  

Of course, stopping to take a breath is no easy task—especially when one is in a moment of frenzy—but for sure not an impossible one. The decision to pause and take a breath must be made before the stressful moments occur. 

No one said mindful living was easy. Taking a few minutes out of your day to engage in conscious breathing will train the mind to use conscious breath when it is most needed.

I find this exercise to be useful because one is prolonging the exhale and keeping the mind busy with the task of keeping the fingers busy. Conscious breath is a tool to use for stress management and anxiety and not meant to replace medications or psychiatric care for severe cases of mental disorders.

Let’s take the time to take care of ourselves. Tune in to the simple things in life. Revel in the mastery of the human anatomy. We also must learn to ask for help from others and not be ashamed of our struggles with mental health. Most important, let us be present, listen, observe, and help others.

About the writer:

Paola Collazos is a reiki master, energy medicine practitioner, and licensed massage therapist. She is an artist, poet, teacher and writer who promotes peace and enlightenment by helping others heal themselves. Her latest book is “We Are Magical Beings: A Healing Guide for Earthlings.”

About the author

Healthy Living

Healthy Living is unique in a sea of health magazines that only present information on nutrition and exercise. Published by Akers Media Group, Healthy Living goes much farther by focusing on the four pillars of a true wellness — physical, mental, spiritual and financial health.

Healthy Living promotes a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle with easy-to-read features, try-it-at-home exercise programs, and expert advice from financial planners, mental health professionals, and a variety of other leaders in their respective fields.

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