December 18, 2014
This beautiful time of year is also one of the most stressful for many people. The rush and obligations of the holiday season—a season that should be simply joyful—can bring anxiety, worry and higher blood pressure.
At times of stress many of us withdrawa from our physical bodies and draw into our minds and emotional bodies. Breathing becomes shallow. If the shallow breathing is left undetected, that in itself becomes a signal of stress. As the body and the nervous system react to the shallow breathing, more stress is produced. The cycle is self-perpetuating.
At such times many of us introduce outside substances to help us relieve stress and anxiety, pushing it deeper within our bodies and minds. Many of the substances we take to calm us down actually do more harm than good. Drinking alcohol, for instance, may give a sense of calmness but can actually suppress or exaggerate an emotional reaction. The problem with suppression is that it is like taking a stick of dynamite, lighting it, and putting it in a trashcan with the lid on. At some point, it will blow up. This can be on the physical, mental, or emotional levels. It is much more difficult to put the pieces back together after a blowup than to fix the problem in the first place. The best way to stop the cycle is to calm and control the mind with conscious deep breaths.
Once, I stopped by to wish a friend happy birthday and noticed he was hunched over his coffee table, fretting. On closer observation, I saw he was filling out his income tax return. On even closer examination, he was also doing alternate nostril breathing (a yogic breathing practice).
“What is it you were doing?” I asked.
“Trying to stay calm while filling out my tax return.”
This idea of using yogic breathing to alleviate stress during such times is good in theory, but in practice this method (doing both at once) was not giving him full concentration on the tax return or on the breathing practices. It would bring better results for both to spend a few minutes on conscious breathing first and then work on the tax forms. The mind would be more focused, and work could be done in half the time. So, I recommended that he step away from the tax forms for a few moments of relaxing breathing. Then, he could return to the table and give the tax forms full concentration. When he felt stress creeping in again, he could pause for another breathing break. In this way, he would finish his taxes with less stress and much better focus.
Try to keep this in mind during the holiday season. If you start to feel stress, take a little break away from the action and breathe deeply for a few moments. You’ll find yourself relaxing and rediscovering joy and true celebration.