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Good mental health: Breathing

Sight loss can have a significant emotional impact on mental health and wellbeing. Focusing on our breathing can help in all aspects of positive mental health and wellbeing.

How to focus on your breathing

Sight loss can elicit a range of emotions including, but not limited to, loss, anger, frustration, isolation, powerlessness and feelings of dependency. All of these can be extremely stressful.

Noticing our breathing can allow us to gain perspective if we are feeling angry or frustrated; it can help alleviate stress; it can help us through pain or upset; it can help us feel less anxious and it can certainly help us to relax and feel more at ease.

What do we mean by noticing our breathing?

We all know we need to breathe but taking the time to notice our breath allows the body to go back to basics. Noticing our breath helps us to change our mind’s focus, allowing the body and mind to deal more effectively with the stress and strain that it is facing in that moment.

For example, if we reflect on physical pain, taking a deep breath in (allowing our stomach to expand) and then breathing out (allowing our stomach to contract) helps the body deal with the pain.

The same principle is true for mental health. If we are feeling tense, frustrated or even angry at something, we can help change our perspective by inhaling (expanding our stomach) and then exhaling (contracting our stomach). If we do this over a period of time, for example 20 seconds, our body can start to feel less tense, and we can regain perspective enabling us to deal with the difficult situation in a calmer, more effective manner.

There are many different ways to focus on breathing; there are techniques that have been used for centuries to alleviate tension and stress and help the mind and body feel more energised and less tense. Controlled focused breathing can help regulate our heartbeat and is often used when someone is experiencing a panic attack to help the person become calmer.

Focused breathing can be used as part of a tool kit to help gain perspective and enable you to address issues with a calmer more measured response.

Basic breathing exercise

  • sit comfortably
  • take a deep breath in through your nose (noticing your stomach going out)
  • exhale (noticing your stomach going in)
  • repeat this exercise for as long as you feel comfortable
  • each time you try this exercise, try and increase the time a little and with practise the breathing exercise can become easier and more beneficial.

During the breathing exercise you might notice feelings of frustration, agitation, impatience, or calm and feelings of being at peace; all of these feelings are OK. Notice the feelings, then refocus onto your breathing again. Through practise, the feelings of frustration and impatience may lessen, and the calmer experience may become more intense.

After the breathing exercise, you might want to ponder a few questions. How do you feel? How does your body feel? You might experience a sense of calm or feel less tense.

It is good to notice the difference in your physical body as well as your mental health. Often stress and anxiety can manifest itself in a physical experience such as “feeling a knot in your stomach” or noticing your arms with a tingly sensation. Or you can feel your heart “race”. After time and practise, this simple breathing technique might help these physical signs of stress and anxiety abate.

Something that is very useful about practising breathing is that when you do feel anxious, on edge or stressed about a situation, taking a moment to breathe, and take control over your breathing, can help you feel calmer and more equipped to deal with it.

Further information

iBreathe and Breath+ are apps you can download with your breathing technique.

YouTube also has numerous videos about breathing. Here are a few that might be helpful:

The fantastic thing about focusing on your breathing is that it can be done anywhere at any time. Sitting comfortably is one suggestion, however, if you find yourself in the middle of a challenging situation, you can take a moment to take a deep breath in, and then out again which can have an immediate positive impact on how you are feeling.

Although focused breathing sounds like a simple thing to do, practice is the key to fully experience the benefits of taking the time to refocus and reengage with the simple act of breathing. How we breathe can have a significant impact on both our physical and mental wellbeing; taking that little time out each day to focus on our breath can be significantly beneficial to both in the short and longer term.