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Take a deep breath and step back

How best to use the #1 essential coping tool

People have asked me, if I could only give one coping tool, what would it be? This is an easy one to answer.

When you're in a tricky situation and you're starting to react (your stress bucket is rising and you're about to get stressed, anxious, angry or fearful) – my 'go to' coping tool is the 'Deep breath and step back'.

We've always known that taking a deep breath can help, but we now know that the things that enhance that deep breath and take it to a new level.

Breathing in and out slowly sends a message to our limbic/survival brain that there is no need to fight or run away, because if we can breathe like that there mustn't be any threat. This slow in and out breathing can help you calm down, relax or even get to sleep.

Breathing deeply into our chest can also help stabilise the Vagus nerve which is involved in the 'freeze' part of the stress reaction (fight, flight or freeze).

But what is the optimal deep breath and how can we best use it in a stressful moment?

When we start to react to a trigger, whether it's a person, a situation or a thing, our survival mechanism starts to go into overdrive; our heart beats faster and we become fearful or angry.

It's important to be mindfully self-aware and notice as early as possible when we are starting to react – don't wait until it's too late.

Focus is also important. If we can totally focus on the breath, it will help us to let go of the intense emotional reaction and also focus on the present moment.

Letting go is important. Taking a mental step back from the stressor can help us get that little bit of detachment that is required to help us let go.

Finally, holding the breath for 3 seconds helps to even out the oxygen content in the blood preventing hyperventilation.

The steps in the 'Deep breath and step back'

  1. Watch yourself for any signs of reaction
  2. If you feel yourself starting to react take a deep, deep breath and hold it
  3. Count slowly to three – hold the breath - strongly focusing on counting
  4. Take a mental step back from the stressor – or even a physical step
  5. Let the breath out slowly, counting to three
  6. Do not say, or do anything until you have finished the breath; do not be pressured into doing anything

If you need to, take another breath or as many as you need to in order to calm down

The 'Deep breath and step back' is simple, effective, and easy to remember. It's easily the number one essential in the tool box of coping mechanisms especially for reactivity.