Getting overwhelmed or stressed or angry or sad is normal.
It happens to all of us.
Whether you are on a group trip and you’re upset with a friend for being pushy, if you are alone and feeling overwhelmed or fighting with your partner and not feeling heard, there are times when we want to lash out, scream or cry.
It’s just life.
I’d wager that in most of these situations, we would reroute our emotions or diffuse our anger if we could. I say I like to cause a scene mostly in jest, but NEVER have I wanted to cause a scene in St. Marks Square, or in the home of a host family, or in front of a ton of strangers. Don’t want to be that American tourist ya know?
How do we de-stress when our feelings get the best of us?
My friend and business partner/butt-kicking world traveler, Emily, told me about this technique and it seriously helped me save face so many times. Specifically when this happened in Italy. Here’s what you do.
- Inhale for four seconds. Expand your lungs and fill your belly. Belly breathe!
- Hold it for four seconds.
- Exhale for four seconds.
- Hold it for four seconds.
Like a square, since each side is four, eh? Eh?
It’s simple and discreet and no one knows you are doing it, but it helps. It helps! This technique works for anger, to stop yourself from crying in the most inopportune moments, or to just relax your face and have your muscles relax when feeling a little tightly-wound.
I like to use this in conjunction with another technique I’m quite fond of: Walking away and removing myself from a stressful situation. If I’m with friends and I’m getting angry, I excuse myself to go to the bathroom or stand in line to order another coffee and square breathe. If I’m traveling with a group, I just take a minute to wander into a nearby shop or stop walking completely while they carry on to look at the scenery and square breathe. It lets me focus on something else other than the problem while I calm down so that I can return to the situation with my emotions in check.
It takes such a small amount of time but makes a huge difference. You can do it anywhere and not feel awkward or look like you are freaking out. You feel an instant difference.
Why does square breathing work?
Stress stored in the body is experienced as muscle stiffness such as tense facial muscles, clenching fists or flexing your core muscles to stop from breathing too hard or from crying. The last one is actually a counterintuitive response because it causes us to breathe harder and cry faster due to the constriction of our lungs to breathe fully.
Square breathing is breathing deeply.
It relaxes your muscles. When you breathe deeply you expand your diaphragm muscles, unclenching your core and actually correcting your posture by stretching all those muscles out. Relaxed muscles are a sign of calmness and just feel good.
Deep breathing brings more oxygen into your blood. The brain eats oxygen in huge quantities. It takes the oxygen and puts it to work calming us down, making us feel in control and grounded. Stress makes us take shallow breaths and constrict our core muscles so our lungs and diaphragm can’t expand and bring in all that delicious oxygen. It exacerbates an already stress-filled scenario.
It takes your focus off the immediate trigger. You have some time while you are breathing and counting to let the problem sit for a second. Your subconscious mind is a brilliant and beautiful thing. While you are breathing and bringing your physical body into a relaxed state, your subconscious is doing work on the problem, telling your conscious mind what to do and how to handle this.
Life is stressful sometimes. Relaxing doesn’t have to be. Give this technique a try when you are in an overwhelming situation and let us know how it worked for you. If you have a preferred way you deal with stress, tell us in the comments. We can never have too many ways to cope in such a hectic world.