“Just breathe” is more than the refrain in the Anna Nalick song “Breathe (2AM).” Don’t worry if you don’t know the reference. I’ve had this hook stuck in my head for years and still had to Google who sang it.
“Just breathe” is probably the advice I most frequently give when someone is freaking out. And it’s definitely the advice I take most often when I’m freaking out.
It sounds so silly. As one more than one person has said to me, “I am breathing!”
But in those moments when you need a reminder to breathe, are you? Are you really breathing? Okay, probably enough not to die.
But doing just enough not to die isn’t really living either.
When I say, “Just breathe” it isn’t some patronizing phrase. I don’t follow those words with “Duh!” Well, except when someone needs a laugh to interrupt the freakout.
“Just breathe” is simply a reminder to be mindful.
On the most basic level our breath regulates our body. In doing that it also regulates our mood, which has a tremendous influence over our perspective and experiences in life. Often when we’re freaking out, or more specifically feeling anxious, our breathing is shallow and rapid. This type of breathing increases those uncomfortable physical sensations that tell us we’re anxious. When we can shift our focus to our breath and slow it consciously, the physical sensations of anxiety decrease and often even disappear. When this happens our body tells our mind that we’re now feeling more calm than anxious. Adios freak out!
Consciously breathing is form of mindfulness. It puts us in the present moment where everything is - believe it or not - okay. It’s also really the only thing most of us have complete control over (I know it’s different for those with asthma and other breathing problems.).
For those of us who dabble as control freaks from time to time (or all the time) this can be difficult to accept. Even though breathing is technically an action, it often isn’t enough of an action for the doers out there. Yet when in an emotional crisis, doing usually makes things worse. When we can calm ourselves down we see more possibilities and make better decisions.
There isn’t a single situation where breathing won’t make it better. When you’re freaking out. When someone else is freaking out. When nothing’s going your way. When everything’s going your way. Even during an actual physical crisis breathing will help. “Just breathe” doesn’t mean that you don’t do anything else but breathe. It simply means breathe first so you can mindfully know what to do next. If nothing else, it can’t hurt to give breathing an earnest try. We all gotta do it anyway.