This article was written by Kristy Hoffman Rieken RDN, LD, LMNT. She is a registered & licensed dietitian and nutrition expert. (Article reprinted with permission from the author).
Wellness & Grief: Just Breathe
When it feels as if the rug has been pulled out from underneath, it is often difficult to know what to do next. The brain freezes, the heart stops, the world stalls…or so it seems. Breathing, which normally is so natural, becomes short and shallow. The throat and windpipe tighten with grief’s grip and the brain starts to spin. Decisions of what to do next reel around as the body tries to decide what takes precedence.
These moments can occur not only during the initial moments of change but often throughout the process. Until the first step is completed, discomfort may give way to panic as the body strains to receive more oxygen. Breathe.
Every air-breathing organism takes one large breath of air to start life. The brain and body know what it needs to continue functioning, but sometimes we must remember to help it along. Breathe. Breathe in through the nose; breathe out through the mouth. Slowly count to 1 when breathing in and out; extend the count to 4 while inhaling and exhale to a count of 8. Taking control of the breath will allow control to be regained throughout the body and brain.
The brain will relax, followed by the muscles, as the breathing action allows more oxygen to flow in and carbon dioxide to flow out. Imagine the air filling a balloon in the belly area with each breath and then deflating with each exhalation. Feel the oxygen travel down to the fingertips and toes as the sensations of grounding and relief fill the body and brain. Take as many controlled, slow breaths as needed to allow the discomfort to pass and the body to return to a neutral state.
Practice slow controlled breathing whenever needed. The rhythm is particularly helpful when sleep is difficult to obtain. Place one hand on the belly and one hand on the chest. Breathe in through the nostrils and feel the air enter your torso and push your hand out. If the shoulders rise with the breath, focus on moving the air down past the lungs into the belly. Exhale while pulling the belly button in and pushing the air out of the mouth. Breathe in and feel the air move down into the belly and through the legs and feet while counting to four; hold; breathe out while pulling the belly into the spine while counting to eight. Breathe in and inhale peace, serenity, calm, joy; hold; exhale worry, tired, stress, overwhelmed, unsure, pain, fear, shame. Practice using this style of breathing repeatedly during the day until it becomes more natural.
When life changes, it is necessary to adjust and move forward. Focusing on the breath during the first step will create the desire to continue breathing and moving. Follow the advice of St. Francis of Assisi: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible”.