Stop and Breathe Simples, right, or maybe not?
After ten years running a therapy business and over twenty years working in the health profession it still amazes me how many people don’t breathe properly or actually hold their breath for good chunks of time. This is particularly astounding given that breathing is so fundamental and essential to our existence.

If you happen to have a baby handy take a look at how they breathe, (when they’re not crying)… deep into their little bellies with the odd sigh here and there to help them release and relax.

And the rest of us? Well we run around like people possessed with our shoulders round our ears, our jaws locked and only using perhaps a third of our lung capacity. Go on, check your shoulders and your jaw now, can you say they are 100% relaxed? Does your belly expand and your shoulders stay still when you breathe?

So what’s the problem with this state of affairs? In 2013 the UK Office for National Statistics* found that 131 million working days were lost due to sickness and of these “more days were lost to back, neck and muscle pain than any other cause.” After minor illnesses the third most common cause of absenteeism was stress, anxiety and depression, accounting for a total of 15 million days. That is a lot of days off and doesn’t take into account the people who are soldiering on not taking time off, more common amongst those who are self-employed apparently.

Not making time for ourselves effects our ability to live our lives, to function, to turn up at work and certainly the way we interact with our partners, our children, our pets maybe and how able we feel we keep on top of the endless ‘to do’ lists most of us seem to have. Are you recognising something from your life yet? (Sickness Absence in the Labour Market, February 2014.)

How did we get here? Our world has changed immeasurably, even just in the last twenty years, in terms of the technology available to us. Many of these so-called labour saving devices just seem to encourage us to do more and to do it faster and you probably don’t need me to tell you how ever increasing materialism and consumerism just makes us feel we should work harder to have more, whatever that ‘more’ might be.

The American Psychological Association describe how “when the body is stressed, muscles tense up. Muscle tension is almost a reflex reaction to stress — the body's way of guarding against injury and pain.” 

Well what is the answer? Just like many things there is no ‘one’ answer or quick fix. If you think you might be a chronic ‘stress-head’ you can take a two-pronged approach. The first step is to take a look at all the things you ‘have’ to do or have going on in your life and see if there is anything you can say no to or change to reduce your stress. A troubled relationship, a job you hate or simply not saying ‘no’ enough can all contribute to high stress levels and it might be time to consider some professional help for the biggies.

How you manage the stress that you don’t yet feel able to change or is genuinely out of your control, is the second part and this could involve different things for different people. Getting more sleep or exercise or taking up something like yoga and meditation or learning Reiki, which you can use on yourself, can all help.

And what you can you do right now? The next time you realise your head is spinning, your shoulders are up round your ears or your breath feels shallow or tight: STOP! Roll back your shoulders, take a few slow deep breaths and feel yourself sinking down into your feet.

A little calmer? Now try imagining you are standing barefoot on your favourite surface, (fresh grass, sand, a soft rug perhaps?). Give your toes a wiggle and feel the sensations of your feet sinking into that surface. Let your breath sink into your belly as your shoulders drop towards the ground. Ahhhh, now doesn’t that feel better?

Dr Karen Janes trained and worked as a Clinical Psychologist before going left field and heading into the world of Energy Medicine.

You can read more about her here or click here to read her 11 Tips to Feeling Great on the Women on Wednesday networking site.