May 7, 2020

The Power of a Breath


By Marie C. Celano, LCPC, Director of Grace Counseling Ministries

If we took a poll most of us would say that breathing is very important. We all know that if a person is not breathing that’s evidence that something is drastically wrong.  You might call 911, or start giving CPR but you certainly wouldn’t ignore it.   And yet, do you pay much attention to your own breath in the day to day?  Probably not.

A big part of my job is to teach people to pay attention to their breath. So many times I have a client come into my office (or show up on my screen) in a frenzy, and I have to ask them to pause and to notice their breath as they talk nervously.  When you’re anxious, the sympathetic nervous system is in control: your thoughts race, your heart beats faster, and your breathing becomes quicker. But when you pause to take a breath you can reverse that. 

How many of us feel our sympathetic nervous systems are on high alert because of COVID-19? Your child coughs and you fear he’s got the virus; you go for a walk and give your neighbor a wide berth as you pass by. Sadly, the threat is real, but there is something you can do to calm down your sympathetic nervous system: activate your parasympathetic nervous system. I know that sounds like a big term but all you need to do is practice deep breathing.  

Here are three ways to do that:

  1. Start by noticing your breath. Is your breath shallow and fast? Slow? Smooth? Rough? Now try to deepen your breath. Imagine your lungs are like balloons filling up with air. With each inhale try to fill them a little more. Hold for a count then exhale. With each exhale try to breathe out a little more.
  1. If you have kids, each of you grab a stuffed animal and lie on the bed or floor. Now put the stuffed animal on your belly and breath in while pushing your belly up.  Just watch the stuffed animal go up and down as you breathe in deeper.
  1. Another very simple exercise is to just sigh long and loud a few times. I think a lot of us are holding our breath until COVID ends but let’s just give COVID one big loud sigh.  

Once you incorporate these activities into your daily routine you should find yourself less anxious and on edge. Our breath is a powerful thing. After all, didn’t God bring life into the first human by breathing into his nostrils?

If you find it difficult to calm your emotions, you feel panic, or you have ruminating and anxious thoughts, you might benefit from talking to someone. You can get in touch with Marie at  

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