Are You Breathing Correctly to Calm Your Mind and Body?

breathing deeply

We all breathe all the time, but do we know how to breathe properly? Take a normal breath in and then exhale.  How much air are you taking in? Dancers, actors, meditators, swimmers, athletes and yogis all work consciously on their breathing as it is vital in order to perform well.   Every time you breathe, you nourish your body and brain, so it’s very important to understand the health implications of not breathing properly and how this impacts on your emotional, physical and mental wellbeing.

Most people breathe from their chest and this contributes to neck and shoulder tension, because you are constantly using the muscles in the top half of your body that are not intended for breathing.  Breathing from the lower half of your body – known as belly breathing which involves the bottom half of your ribcage moving and your belly expanding – is reminding your body of how it is designed to work.  To effectively combat stress, you need to breathe in this way to activate your parasympathetic nervous system (aka your body’s relaxation response).

In addition to its calming physical effects, activating your body’s relaxation response also increases energy and focus, combats illness, relieves aches and pains, heightens problem-solving abilities, and boosts motivation and productivity. With regular practice anyone can reap these benefits.

 

Why has our breathing become inefficient? 

Why has our breathing become inefficient?  Stress – we’re constantly rushing, multi-tasking, overthinking, overdoing it and feeling overloaded. We do everything fast: we walk faster, eat faster, talk faster and we age faster! Consequently our breathing is constantly in fast mode, it’s shallow and quick.  This has terrible health repercussions because every cell in your body needs oxygen, therefore many illnesses are caused or made worse by a lack or imbalance of oxygen. Breathing from your chest underutilises your diaphragm so that your exhalation becomes very passive and instead of using your exhalation muscles, you simply let the air out.  Even though it may feel normal for you to breathe this way, it becomes dysfunctional because the exchange of oxygen to carbon dioxide is out of balance. You could inhale more fresh air if you exhaled all the stale air out more fully each time.

Sub-optimal breathing contributes to:-

Cognitive problems ~ less oxygen = concentration difficulties and memory problems.

Emotional problems ~ depression and anxiety are worsened by shallow breathing.

Acidity and inflammation ~ increase in and longer duration of pain.

Spinal health ~ using incorrect muscles to breathe causes neck & shoulder tension.

Low energy ~ shallow breathing delivers less oxygen to the cells, leading to cells having to prioritize survival over growth and repair.

Hypertension ~ breathing badly constricts blood vessels which can lead to higher blood pressure which in turn makes the heart work harder.

Digestive difficulties ~ breathing muscles stimulate peristalsis, the wave-like motion of the intestines that promotes digestion and elimination. Without this internal abdominal massage, symptoms such as constipation, bloating, gas, heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome increase.

Poor sleep ~ shallow breathing switches on your sympathetic nervous system (aka ‘fight or flight’ response) which impairs deep sleep.

Teach yourself how to belly breathe

Breathing correctly leads to better oxygenation and also works your core more efficiently leading to stronger muscles.  Teach yourself how to belly breathe using the lower half of your body to expand in a subtle 3-dimensional way on the inhalation – feel the bottom half of your ribcage, your lower abdomen, the sides of your waist and lower back all expanding and learn to contract those muscles a lot more when expelling all the old stale air out when you exhale.  Simply practicing mindful belly breathing little and often throughout the day will remind your how to breathe properly, and by changing your breathing you will be able to improve your wellbeing and learn to control stress – not let it control you.

Caroline x

Posted in Body & Soul, Breathe, Mind, Mind, Body & Soul, Mindfulness, Resilience, Self-Care, Stress Relief, Wellbeing | Leave a comment

How You Can Stop Self-Sabotaging Behaviour

new-year_s-wishes

Are you are your own worst enemy? How many times have you intended to make changes in the New Year and then asked yourself why you self-destruct? We can all be guilty of self-sabotage, whether it’s procrastinating when something important is due at work, working out in the gym and then binging on chocolate when you get home, making promises to yourself that you don’t intend to keep, or keeping so busy that you barely have time to think let alone deal with your issues.

Self-sabotage is when you feel that you can’t do something you should be able to do, or that you shouldn’t do something even though you know deep down that you want or need to do it.  It’s a way of punishing yourself when you feel out of control and when you have unmet desires and needs. 

How do you get in your own way? 

Your counter-productive habits manifest themselves in 2 ways – they’re either rebellious coping mechanisms in times of stress (such as overspending or drinking too much), or they are ways of staying in your comfort zone due to feelings of unworthiness (like never asking for a promotion or staying in disruptive relationships).  You may be wondering “Why do I do that to myself?”

You have automatic inborn survival responses relating to feelings of fear that prepare your body to “fight” or “flee” from situations where you feel threatened, or when you think that you feel threatened.  It is the feeling we attach to these fearful events that cause us to use a coping mechanism which then becomes a self-defeating behaviour. 

Your subconscious stores all your past memories and experiences of occasions when you’ve felt fearful and these subconscious memories manifest in your thoughts, actions and patterns of self-defeating behaviours.  These behaviours usually start in childhood when your options are more limited and your subconscious mind is more open to external manipulation, because we accept what we are told through the repeated information given to us by authority figures, such as parents, teachers and religious leaders.  We then bring these suggestions into our experiences and build them into our core belief systems – so without realizing it, we tend to internalize attitudes that were taught to us by parents or influential caretakers throughout our development.  This critical inner voice is formed from our early life experiences for example, if our parents said we were lazy, we may grow up feeling useless or ineffective and engage in self-sabotaging thoughts that tell us not to even try, such as “Why bother? You’ll never succeed anyway. You just don’t have the energy to get anything done.”  In a similar way, children can also internalize negative thoughts that their parents or early caretakers had toward themselves.  For example, if you grew up with a parent who often viewed themselves as weak or a failure, you may grow up with similar self-sabotaging attitudes.

We can’t change the past, but as adults, we can identify the self-sabotaging thoughts that we’ve internalized and consciously choose to act against them. It is when we become victims to our critical inner voice and listen to its commands that we often engage in self-limiting or self-sabotaging behaviours that hurt us in our daily lives.

Your self-defeating behaviours usually start in early childhood as an effective way of coping, dealing with, or getting out of a difficult or unpleasant situation.  Then these behaviours, thoughts, or feelings become an unconscious reaction.  In recognizing the life circumstances which have led to these behaviours, you will more accurately identify your underlying needs associated with the behaviour and your core beliefs that fuel those thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. 

Self-sabotage can come in many forms and manifest in our lives in many different ways.

Here is a list of the common forms of self-sabotage my clients struggle with:

Perfectionism                      

Denial

Busyness

Worrying

Hostility

Lack of commitment

Addictions – smoking, gambling, sex, drugs, alcohol, exercise, etc.

Spending money

Giving up

Withdrawing

Risk-taking

Work/career

Fantasising

Picking fights

Compulsive, ritualistic behaviours in excessive forms

Avoidance

Shutting down

Lying by omission

Procrastination

Sickness/being ill

Inability to say NO

Suspiciousness

Excuses

Comfort eating

Defensiveness

Isolating

Shyness

Escapism

Lack of confidence

Sexual dysfunctions – psychological impotence and frigidity

Depression (this is self-defeat at its most effective)

Where do self-sabotaging thoughts come from?

Self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviours are perpetuated by an inner critic we all possess.  We are already so hard on ourselves and what’s worse is that we usually don’t recognize that it’s even happening.  Negative self-talk strengthens the negative thoughts and patterns you have about yourself, your inadequacies, your lack of success and this leads to a cycle of self-sabotaging that can be very difficult to break.  Your anti-self, that’s formed from your early life experiences, casts doubt about your abilities, undermines your desires, and fills your mind with critical self-analysis and self-sabotaging thoughts that cause you to hold back from your true goals.  Therefore changing these behaviours means challenging deeply engrained, old and familiar attitudes that you have about yourself.

All self-defeating behaviours are false friends – they seem helpful at the time but are actually harmful, especially when repeated as a pattern and developed over time.  Comfort eating, for example, might not be too problematic if it happens only once every few weeks, but it becomes self-defeating when it occurs frequently (after every stressful event and becomes your go-to response because you might not know another way of coping with pressure) and causes weight gain, health issues and body dissatisfaction.

Some of the most severe forms of self-sabotage often feel right because they help us escape intense and uncomfortable negative emotions.  Sadness often leads people to withdraw from others and to stop engaging in activities they enjoy. This response feels right, but it is actually harmful because by withholding the healthy things from ourselves when we are sad, we only intensify the sadness, potentially turning it into depression.

How to stop engaging in self-sabotaging behaviour

All forms of talking therapy are designed to treat some form of self-defeating behaviour.  Bearing in mind that the main reason we practice our self-defeating behaviours is fear (our automatic inborn survival response) the main reason that we carry on these behaviours is the instant reduction of feelings of psychological and physical tension.  This instant reward causes us to minimise the effects of our behaviour and to rationalise it in order to continue to use it, which takes away the possibility of choosing a healthier action or behaviour in the future.   Self-sabotage is a complex process that encompasses your limiting beliefs, so it’s necessary to pay close attention to the excuses you may make that prevent you from moving forward.

Limiting beliefs like:-

This won’t work …

I can’t do this …

I’m too busy right now …

I’m just not ready yet …

I’m just not good enough …

Through conscious self-awareness can you begin to put a stop to these patterns of behaviour. 

 

In order to eliminate these self-sabotaging behaviours I assist and guide my clients to:-

  • understand where your self-defeating behaviours originated and to pinpoint specific triggers (people, objects, specific times, events, locations)
  • identify the underlying needs associated with this behaviour
  • explore your core beliefs that fuel these thoughts, feelings, and behaviours
  • understand why you need to change your maladaptive patterns
  • take responsibility for choosing alternative responses that are more helpful

All negative behaviour has negative consequences for our life. What is this behaviour costing you? When we take the time to recognise the consequences, we form a greater understanding of the problem and we build up the motivation to resolve the situation.  It’s also beneficial to list all the positive consequences of life without your self-defeating behaviours. Listing positive outcomes will serve as a positive reinforcement towards choosing and implementing behavioural changes. 

The choice of changing these behaviours lies solely with you, but knowing that you have a choice about how to respond to difficult situations is very empowering.  Replacing maladaptive core beliefs with self-enhancing beliefs will also help to raise your self-esteem and motivation.

 

These questions are a good starting point and will get you focused in the right direction:

What goals have you had for a long time and never been able to accomplish?

Are you lacking motivation to do something that you should want to do?

In which areas do you find yourself procrastinating or putting off making a decision?

Is there something in your life that bothers you and causes you dissatisfaction because you know you could do it, or do it better?

Is there an area in your life where other people consistently get frustrated with you?

Special Offer in January 2017…

For a limited time in January, I am offering a FREE 30 minute telephone session to support you to make your self-sabotaging behaviour a thing of the past.  To arrange this session please use my contact form to email me requesting a session and I will send you a brief questionnaire to complete before we arrange the phone call.   I look forward to hearing from you.

Wishing you a happy and healthy New Year

Caroline x

Posted in Confidence, Mind, Positive Thinking, Resilience, Self-Care, Self-Esteem, Stress Relief | Leave a comment

How You Can Develop Resilience

resilience tree.jpg

Have you ever wondered why some people are able to cope with distress more ably than others?  This subject has always fascinated me as I do a lot of work around strengthening resilience with clients who come to me for support.  Resilience can be described as the ability to bounce back or recover quickly from setbacks.  It’s actually all about your ‘survive and thrive’ instinct and it develops from the start of your life as your brain processes or learns from experiences to keep you safe and alive.

You learn your earliest strategies of resilience in infancy, through interacting with your parents, caregivers, and others who are close and influential to you.  Attachment theory provides an explanation of how the parent-child relationship emerges and influences subsequent development.  In the 1950’s British psychoanalyst John Bowlby’s theory of attachment showed that as babies, fear drives us to seek reassurance and protection from someone who is older, wiser, stronger and able to help.  He found that ‘early attachment bonds with parents affect the formation of our “internal working model” of self in relation to others.’ 

In other words the way that parents respond to their baby encodes into its brain the internal working models and rules of coping by 12-18 months of age.  So when a parent repeatedly responds sensitively and appropriately to the baby’s needs by smiling, holding them gently, and speaking empathically to them, this forms the basis for an attachment that is safe and trusting.  If parents repeatedly respond calmly to a baby’s cry, changing their nappy and feeding them, the baby learns to soothe itself.  The baby learns that when it calls for help, that call is answered and solutions to problems do exist.  The baby gets a sense that “I am important.  I matter.  I am loved.”  This is fundamental in establishing the basic patterns of resilience.   As that child grows and develops it feels valued and understood which leads it to trust its own competence and cultivate the ability to bounce back.  As the child matures and continues to learn strategies for communicating its needs, and more importantly, feels deserving of having those needs met, they feel the bonds of trust and love.  These patterns of response then become the brains template for their lifetime.
 
What we have to bear in mind is that our parents didn’t always get it right and did the best they could with the knowledge and experience they had at the time.  They also would have gained that experience and learnt their coping strategies from their parents and so on and so on. Fortunately, you have an innate capacity for continuing development of resilience and you can change old patterns of response.  So if you did not initially learn these patterns of response for developing resiliency, as you grow older and become an independent adult you have more and more opportunities to learn this through interacting with other resilient people: role models from life, history and literature, peers, mentors, teachers, partners, therapists, coaches, etc.  Over your lifetime through interactions with the above people you can learn how to think outside the box, solve problems more efficiently and handle disappointments and upsets more capably. 

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Neuroscientist Donald Hebb said: “Neurons that fire together wire together.”  This means that each time you have an experience, good or bad, whether it is an external event (something that happens), or an internal response to the event (your feelings and reaction) the neurons in your brain fire to send electrical and chemical messages which reinforce pathways in the brain.  As an experience is repeated the neurons that fired together to create the pathway tend to fire together again, strengthening that pathway and this prepares the brain to respond in the same way each time it encounters a similar situation, creating stronger patterns of response, or wiring.

When you repeat a pattern often enough this is what neuroscientists call conditioning. Conditioning creates automatic habits and stores those patterns of response in your unconscious memory enabling you to respond automatically.  We can deliberately use conditioning to create positive habits of resilience.  For example you can choose experiences to deliberately rewire your brain to cope better.  Although the initial wiring of your brain is based on early experiences, your later experiences (especially healthy relational ones) can undo and overwrite your early learning.    It is from your experiences with others that you learn how to calm your nervous system, remain level headed in times of crisis, trust yourself to make good choices, and use your resources wisely to increase your options for coping. 

This is where my skill as a coach can be restorative in helping to change insecure attachment bonds by providing unconditional support to my clients.  By offering a quiet, non-judgmental space and deep listening I will support you to access your deep-rooted patterns of response that formed early on and assist you to reform new and more beneficial patterns of resilience.

It is helpful to remember that it is not the external trigger, but rather your internal response that is important for resilience.  You will find that often you cannot change the external trigger that creates stress, but you can do something to change your internal responses to those stressors.  You can learn to rewire old patterns of response into new, more helpful patterns that will enable you to cope differently and more resiliently to anything.

Wishing you well

Caroline x

 

Posted in Body & Soul, Mind, Positive Thinking, Resilience, Self-Care, Self-Esteem, Stress Relief, Wellbeing | Leave a comment