Does everything on your “to-do” list make you feel more expansive or constrictive? Do you have things on your list because your friend or sister or mother or co-worker or church committee member has it on her list and you are simply putting it on your list so you look “as good” as she does? Does your to-do list bring you any sense of pleasure? Are there things on your list that please you? Do you resent everything on your list? Is your to-do list your “wow, look at me and all the things I will get done” list? What would you really love to drop off your list? What stops you from dropping it from your list? Where would saying no allow you a life-changing exhale?
Are you literally going through your day holding your breath? If so, your fight or flight response is constantly activated. Holding your breath signals to your brain that you are in danger. This activates your sympathetic nervous system to kick into high gear, which causes your brain to signal the release of adrenaline and cortisol. The in-breath (inhale) activates the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for mobilizing the body during the fight or flight response and aids in control of most of the body’s internal organs.
The out-breath (exhale) activates the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is your calming system. It registers safety in your body and allows the “housekeeping” processes such as digestion, elimination, rest and rejuvenation to take place in your body. When we hold our breath, we activate the sympathetic nervous system while the parasympathetic nervous system is “put on hold”. This means that your fight or flight response is activated. Prolonged activation of your fight or flight response registers as stress in your body.
If you constantly feel stressed or your doctor has told you to decrease your stress levels and you really aren’t sure where to start, pay attention to your breath. Always, always, always remember to exhale. Although breathing is an automatic activity in the body, we can interrupt the process when we hold our breath because of stress, overwhelm, panic or any number of negative emotions.
Excerpt from The Thriving Woman’s Guide to Setting Boundaries