At some point in your life, you probably witnessed someone who became anxious or angry being asked to breathe deeply to calm himself or slow down a response, whether it was an angry coworker who wanted to share a heated rant in a meeting or an infuriated athlete who missed a key play.
A recent study by researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine and the University of California demonstrated that taking a deep breath informs the body to relax. “You can calm your breathing and also calm your mind,” shared Dr. Mark Krasnow, professor of biochemistry at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
We can apply this research to help people calm their minds before they engage in negative online communication that may have ramifications and cause regret. The key to applying breath as an intervention to alter behavior is to recognize potential pitfalls. Once aware of triggers, a person can acknowledge challenges in real-time and immediately employ deep, controlled breathing to inform his mind to relax.
According to Esther Sternberg, physician and researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health, slow, deep breathing calms us down. “When you are stressed, you have your foot on the gas, pedal to the floor. When you take slow, deep breaths, that is what is engaging the brake.”
Like many people, I’ve encouraged youth and adults to “think before they post” but, even though it’s sound advice, it may not be enough in some situations. Thinking alone may not be what we need to distance ourselves from a heat-of-the-moment online disaster. Taking a few slow, deep breaths can calm our minds and give us a chance to address challenges with clarity and serenity. Once calm, we can better think about what to post — or whether or not to post at all.
But, not all breaths are created equal. To fully benefit from the calming effects of breathing, your breath needs to be controlled, slow, and deep. Sit or stand comfortably, and place your hands at your sides, on your thighs, or in a comfortable position. As you slowly inhale, fill the lower portion of your abdomen, then the middle, and then your chest. After a brief pause, slowly exhale the entire breath. Some people suggest making a long shhhhh sound on the exhale for further focus.
After taking a moment to breathe deeply, you should be able to approach online communication calmly and with a level-head. If taking a few breaths weren’t enough, take a few more.
Deep breathing is a great intervention to prevent reacting poorly and engaging in online abuse or cyberbullying, because everyone can learn how to do it, and it’s absolutely free.