If you are feeling overwhelmed this holiday season, you are in good company. Having recently survived the Thanksgiving rush in the US, I am now running around London feeling the heat all over again. Several acquaintances and friends are feeling the tension, too.
Sadly, experiencing anxiety during the holiday season is a common problem nowadays. According to a BBC survey, some four million Britons are uneasy about either spending all or part of Christmas alone. Meanwhile, hundreds of others are not looking forward to the day because of loss, illness, complex family situations, or just the plain old madness associated with the season.
Then there is New Year. Does it ever end? Sure, but that's weeks away from now. In the meantime, how does one survive, get some relief, or enjoy the season for what it is meant to be: a sacred celebration and a time to relax?
Actually, I've got four words of advice for an instant reprieve: connect with your breathing. Seriously, taking a deep breath and slowing one's breath down has long been related to calming down and relaxing. No wonder so many people enjoy meditation and yoga.
According to a NHS website, 'good relaxation always starts with focusing on your breathing. The way to do it is to breathe in and out slowly and in a regular rhythm as this will help you calm down'.
Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? It's just that the more worked-up I am, the harder I find it to breathe easily, and certainly deeply. I noticed this, too, with a relative that suffers from panic attacks, owing to illness and stress.
What are we to do?
Thankfully, however, a few months ago, I happened upon a wonderful treatment called transformational breathing, affirmed by the likes of Goldie Hawn and other A-listers. Bear with me: I had a similar scepticism, particularly having tried meditation and yoga with no success to speak of, while that same lot swear unashamedly by these techniques.
So first, I checked around about the technique and found the following official definition, from the Transformational Breath Foundation UK, intriguing:
... a gentle, simple technique that helps people to open up the full potential of their breathing system for better physical and emotional well-being. It teaches a pattern of conscious breathing that is natural, safe and healthy which can have many benefits, including increased energy, better immune response and increased ability to deal with stress in a healthy way.
It sounded good to me. So, I went for it during a retreat, and quickly became a believer. Reclined on a comfy, cushy mat --though most people sit -- I went through a process that required breathing slowly with my mouth wide open for a few seconds, and then exhaling quickly as if 'misting a mirror', in a rhythm.
'Keep the inhalation and exhalation connected,' the therapist coached, consistently.
Admittedly, I didn't appreciate having a dry mouth at first, or feeling my body temperature change from cool to hot, and so on, but in all fairness, the therapist had explained what I might expect. Also, I didn't like feeling out of control (one of the main points of the exercise. Ah ha!). But once I gave way to the rush of oxygen and energy flowing through my body, I felt euphoric ... actually, I felt as if I could breathe again, rather freely.
'The LSD of the breathing world,' one friend calls it. Not that she or I know anything about LSD thankfully, but such drugs are associated with a mind-altering experience, even if a negative one. However, transformational breathing amends the mind positively, certainly helping the recipient to relearn to breathe deeply and slowly.
And not a single drug or alien source is involved: it is all about connecting with your own breath.
Or should I say reconnecting because, through the technique, I discovered that somewhere along the way I had actually lost touch with my own breath. Really! No longer did I breathe deeply quite easily, like babies do, their stomachs rising and falling, but my natural breath had become shallow, causing my breathing to feel short, particularly during stressful times.
And though I can't claim to practise transformational breathing skilfully solo, I know that if I connect with my breath rather deeply, I am more than capable of adequately and skilfully bailing myself out of stress, anxiety, even anger, as and when appropriate.
Now to finish the holiday preparations, but first, a deep breath is certainly in order. There, I'm reconnected.
My advice to you: get connected with your breathing -- that is, during the holidays -- for a calmer and gentler season.