Breathing For The Brain.
This is one of the first areas of Mental Health that Lisa educates her clients on. So very often, clients find themselves in counselling and Psychotherapy sessions looking for answers on how to decrease their emotional eating, muster up the energy it takes to get out of bed, respond appropriately to emotionally charged interactions, and even move through the emotional rollercoaster that a break up can bring.
It’s Science. Our brains, the control centre of our bodies, require oxygen to function. Sounds simple right? This automatic response in our bodies is essential to our brain health and is pivotal when we find ourselves confronted with stress.
Why Can’t I Just Cope Well With Stress?
This question often comes up in session. Why can’t I just say what I need to say, set that boundary, say no, or resist the temptation?
The answer is within the Prefrontal Cortex of the brain. This area of the brain is the control centre of emotional expression, problem solving, judgement and so forth. This means that the mechanism that allows us to reason, see situations clearly, and access our rational thoughts becomes interrupted and almost unreachable when we get up close with stress.
The reality is, when we experience a high dose of stress hormone (a significant loss, divorce, failure, intrusive thoughts), the prefrontal cortex of the brain takes a hit. This is what makes it challenging to “ do the right thing” to “ move on” or to “stand up for yourself”.
How Can Breathing Help The Brain?
When the brain experiences a high does of stress hormone it’s comparable to a hard drive on your laptop overheating. Your brain functioning slows down ( visualize that spinny ball on your Mac), it becomes difficult to access your “files” including healthy coping responses like going for a walk, thinking mindfully, or turning on music to redirect your mood. Taking deep breaths in times of stress is literally your internal fan. Breathing allows for oxygen to soothe the brain- to cool it down, and to restore it to its baseline of functioning. Breathing is an essential skills to relax our brains when we’re under stress. Once our brains “ cool down” we can then access those files, or coping strategies that we’ve been reading about and so willingly wanting to integrate into our actual lives.
Breathing is the gateway for being able to deal with in the moment stress effectively. Once this is accomplished we can then move towards using effective communication strategies, applying cognitive behavior strategies and even begin to decrease the intensity of intrusive thoughts.
So, wondering where to start to improve your mental health? Begin by intentionally breathing when you are in a calm state. Practice, Practice, Practice. Then, breath when stress hits. Remember, your breath is your fan, soothing your brain and literally “chilling you out”.
P.S. No one ever calms down by being told to “Calm Down”.
We reach calm by remembering to breath first.
Lisa Azzopardi, MSW, RSW
Social Worker, Psychotherapist