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Last Updated on April 19, 2018

How Practicing Deep Breathing Exercises Can Make You a Better Parent

How Practicing Deep Breathing Exercises Can Make You a Better Parent

Do you want to be a better parent? Chances are, the answer is “yes”. After all, as parents we are always looking out for the wellness of our children–and that especially includes our own interactions with them.

What if I told you that simple deep breathing exercises can vastly improve your parenting skills?

Not convinced? Read on to learn how this simple technique can make you a better parent.

Good Versus Better Breathing

Breathing is something that we take for granted. We’re potentially not even conscious of it, yet it is a key ingredient to human function and performance.

Breathing is a human reflex we’re born with; it’s attached to our nervous system, which has an input and an output. As a parent you most likely cried with joy at your kids first screaming breath; that very moment changing your life forever.

Most likely, though, no one told you as you dove into the art of parenthood that your breathing patterns have a profound affect on us.

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If you have poor breathing patterns (input), you’ll have poor motor output, which can result in muscle compensations, stress and even possible injuries.

Breathing plays a huge role in optimal nervous system function, proper motor function, relaxation, focus, and efficiency.

Today I’m going to take you on a journey into what deep breathing is all about. You’ll learn how it is congruent with less-stressed parenting, and how to go about fitting that in with everything else you have to juggle.

Two Types of Breathing

There are two types of breathing:

  • Diaphragmatic breathing is the most natural way in which the breath utilizes the deep muscles allowing the spine to be stable and mobile. This type of breathing comes from the rib cage and allows the lungs to expand top to bottom, front to back and to each side.
  • Chest breathing (also known as apical breathing) refers to a pattern of breathing where the movement is confined to the upper chest. This type of breathing results from fewer muscles being utilized, so the muscles that are used (upper chest, neck and shoulders) undergo more stress and more movement to facilitate the breathing rhythms.

Deep breathing is not simply expanding your breath as much as possible. Deep breathing is actually defined above as ‘diaphragmatic breathing’.

“Your posture and presence is everything; how you hold yourself determines how your connect to yourself, others and the world around you.”

The diaphragm is a dome shaped band of connective tissue that sits under the ribcage. It helps to draw air into the lungs and the belly when one is taking a full breath, and it massages the body’s organs as it drops down.

The diaphragm is a storehouse for emotional tension, stress, and anxiety.

As our posture changes to a more forward folding movement, such as while sitting or driving for extended periods of time, the diaphragm is ‘locked down’ or becomes ‘stuck’. Similarly the pressures and postures put on a woman’s body throughout pregnancy and during the post-natal period is an example of this.

We go through our lives and forget to breathe into the belly at rest, the sympathetic nervous system of fight/flight and freeze is activated.

The diaphragm and breathing has a direct link to the nervous system.

Carrying out deep diaphragmatic breathing can assist you, your family and your kids to overcome the stresses of everyday life. You be able to live more vitally with more energy, better posture and less pain.

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How to Breathe Better

To really get the best from your deep breathing exercises, it is wise to first understand the three main components of deep breathing:

  1. Opening up the chest
  2. Releasing the diaphragm
  3. Practicing the breath work

I’ve made a video that you can watch below, or follow the written instructions underneath the video.

  1. Open the chest by applying medium to hard pressure to the sternum area using your fingers or a lacrosse ball. Then use your fingers/the ball to ‘shift the skin’ by dragging your chosen implement back and forth. This can be a little painful but can massively assist reduction in neck/shoulder pain so I truly recommend it. Watch the video if you’d like more clarity on exactly how to do this.
  2. Release the diaphragm by doing the same ‘shifting the skin’ at the edge of the ribcage 1-2 inches below the sternum. This is where the diaphragm sits. By doing so you’re inviting movement in the tissues (muscles & fascia) of the diaphragm and surrounding area.
  3. Practice the breath work by first placing one hand on your chest and one hand on your tummy just below your ribs. Practice breathing into your lower hand and keeping the upper hand immobile. Once confident in practicing this type of breath you can add ‘resistance’ to your breath by sucking air through your fingers as you breathe.

Go Deep with Ease

Keep these tips in mind when you’re practicing diaphragmatic/deep breathing:

  • It can take some time to relearn how to breathe. The more you practice, the easier it becomes. Take some time each day to practice this exercise. The nice thing is, you can do it anywhere.
  • Try to practice at a time when you’re already relaxed. This will make it easier to take deeper breaths.
  • If you’re having trouble taking deep breaths, try going to the hand on chest and hand on tummy breath. Aim to keep the hand on your chest immobile as you breath into the lower hand on your tummy.
  • Practice taking 5 breaths each morning as you rest in bed. For each breath count in for a count of 3, hold for a second then breathe out for a count of 4.
  • In time and with practice you will get an idea about how long you need to practice deep breathing exercises to reduce stress. Early on it may be helpful to set a particular time limit, for example, 5 breaths if you’re pressed for time.
  • Keep in mind that it’s usually more effective to practice several shorter periods of deep breathing rather than single long episodes of deep breathing. Practicing more often also helps you to easily incorporate deep breathing as a habit into your lifestyle.

Take a Deep Breath and Improve Your Parenting

Deep breathing is just one method of reducing–or at least coping with–stress in your life; but, there are many stress management techniques that may help you live with more joy and less worry every day.

It is something that can easily be practiced in minimal time. I suggest aiming to commit to just 5 breaths each day after the chest opening and diaphragm release.

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Doing those two things in conjunction with deep breathing will massively help you to feel less stressed, more comfortable and at ease throughout your day.

Even better, encourage the idea that a stress management lifestyle can be a family affair!

Try some of the practices mentioned above with your children along with yourself so that everyone can reap the benefits of deep breathing.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

More by this author

Camilla Dempster

A prenatal/postnatal expert who teaches women to ditch the binge/restrict/guilt cycle around their body, food and exercise.

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Published on January 16, 2019

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

  • Are you a great strategist?
  • Are you an effective planner?
  • Is Project Management your strength?
  • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
  • Are you the ideas person?
  • Is Implementation your strength?

Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

4. Take Time for Planning

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

You can take the time to think about:

  • What’s the purpose of the project?
  • How Important is it?
  • When does it need to be delivered by?
  • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
  • What are the KPIs?
  • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
  • Who is working on this project?
  • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
  • What tolerances can I add in?
  • What are the review stages?
  • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

5. Focus on Priorities

Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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    The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

    If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

    If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

    6. Take Time Out

    To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

    If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

    Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

    In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

    Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

    7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

    Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

    I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

    Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

    If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

    8. Stop Multitasking

    Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

    So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

    When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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    If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

    9. Work in Blocks of Time

    To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

    I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

    Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

    Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

    Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

    Then take another 10-minute break.

    Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

    By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

    10. Get Rid of Distractions

    Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

    “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

    Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

    If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

    11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

    You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

    Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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    Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

    12. Take a Time Audit

    Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

    Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

    You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

    Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

    Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

    At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

    If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

    13. Protect Your Confidence

    It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

    When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

    Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

    When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

    Final Words

    A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

    The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

    If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

    Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

    Reference

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