You’re driving on the highway, relaxed and involved in a daydream when suddenly you realize your exit is approaching sooner than anticipated. You put your turn-signal on to change lanes, but car after car refuses to make room for you. You speed up so you can dart quickly in front of that blue Honda, but the other driver races menacingly ahead as well.
And did he just give you a dirty look? Hmmm, if he thinks he can make you miss the movie theater previews, he’s got another thing coming. You’ll show him! You use an ominous finger gesture while explaining to your confused child that you’re just checking which way the wind is blowing.
As you step on the accelerator to gain speed, you may be aware of something else that’s rapidly picking-up tempo. That’s right, your breathing has been quickening by the second! And your muscles are tensing as cortisol and adrenalin are freely flowing. By this time, you may need to skip the movie and head to your cardiologist’s office because none of this is heart healthy.
You’re probably quite familiar with the above scenario. And if your frustration and anger isn’t road-rage related, chances are you may experience it wherever people gather, i.e. the DMV, a concert, the beach, the workplace, grocery store, or even gathered around your own kitchen table with family. Basically when you can’t control other people (and isn’t that always the case?!) but still have a certain expectation of how their behavior should be, then irritation, resentment and even wrath can be triggered. These negative and destructive emotions in turn will greatly influence your breathing, which then significantly impacts your health.
How to break this vicious cycle? Well if feeling anger results in short, staccato and rapid respiration, then can the reverse be true? Can you deliberately breathe in a contrasting way to produce the opposite emotion of anger? The answer is yes. Much research has been done on breathing and reversing emotional upset and a direct cause and effect have been specifically linked. The old adage to “count to ten when you feel yourself losing your temper” was good advice, but you can do more than that.
To elicit serenity, try inhaling and exhaling consciously in a slow and deep manner through the nose. Breathing deeply from your diaphragm with your ribcage extremely relaxed will help calm down angry emotions and may even convert them to joy! Picture your breath coming up from your “gut” and slowly repeat a calming word or phrase such as “bliss” or “harmony.” Shallow breaths from your chest won’t help you achieve your goal here so always visualize deep belly breaths.
But not all your ire is always aimed at others. Many times the real source of your fury will be self-directed. You may curse at your own ineptitude, put yourself down and berate yourself for perceived shortcomings ceaselessly throughout the day. Sometimes it’s a parental voice or another authoritative figure playing on an endless loop inside your head. This is even more insidious because (as you were taught in your psych 101 class) anger turned inward can result in chronic depression.
The real key to managing your emotional health through breathwork is not just implementing it as an emergency fix when you’re in the throes of a strong rage, but practicing it daily as part of your routine just like you brush your teeth.
I’ll leave you with my simple rhyming phrase to help you remember to incorporate the above breathing technique proactively and preemptively . . .
“I’d rather be relieving than seething – – therefore I’m gonna practice deep-breathing!”
Philippot, P. & Blairy, S. (2010). Respiratory Feedback in the Generation of Emotion, Cognition and Emotion, Vl. 16, No 5 (August 2002), pp. 605-627