Forcing ourselves to take a deep breath can actually make us feel worse, because it goes against what our body is telling us. And overriding our nervous system never works in the long term.
For one, our heart rate actually increases when we inhale….so if we force big, exaggerated deep breaths in an attempt to calm down, we are actually triggering our body to continue ramping up into a fight-flight response. Which does the opposite of calm us down.
And two, by attempting to “breathe” our way through whatever is coming up, we are inadvertently overriding the natural flow of our nervous system. This suppresses our experience further, relegating it to the depths of our body and psyche under the guise of immediate relief. (Side note: when we do this, there’s usually a part of us that is aware that there is still something swirling around in there, that something has been left incomplete).
So what do we do instead? Work with the body. What does this look like?
Pay attention to your breath without changing it. Notice if it feels shallow, tense or if you’re holding it……whatever it’s doing, stay with it. Keep staying with it. Stayyyyy. For as long as it takes. Stay with it until your body (not your mind!) NATURALLY takes a deep breath in, which it will. When this starts to happen, your exhale will likely be nice and deep too, because our heart rate slows on the exhale……and when we’re allowing our bodies to naturally come down from a stress response, our body knows what to do. There’s a big difference between a nice, natural deep breath initiated by our body on our body’s terms, and one that we’re forcing with our mind.
**Bonus points for noticing other physical sensations both as the body is ramped up (i.e. racing heart, upset stomach, tingly arms and legs) and as it is coming back down (i.e. breath returning to normal after some big sighs, body feeling heavy on the earth, muscles relaxed, etc). We want to befriend our bodily sensations and emotions (which are just physical sensations that typically live in the core of the body), rather than avoid them.