by Terrie Towle, LCPC, RN, CCFP
If you’ve been suffering from primary trauma, vicarious trauma, anxiety or jitteriness, anger control challenges, compassion fatigue or burnout— here is some simple help– improve your posture and breathing! When our posture is less than sufficient, slouched or in the chin-down position, our airways are partially obstructed. Think of when you learned to do CPR for instance; one of the first things you learned is to lift the victim’s chin up, so their airway is clear. Well, that is true with YOUR own airway also; not that you have to hold your chin up far, but putting your chin in a neutral position (instead of down) will help you breathe in more air. In his book Activate your Vagus Nerve, Dr. Navaz Habib suggested doing this experiment: Sit in a slouched position and see if you can take a big, deep breath. It’s probably not possible, and maybe even a little painful, especially if your chin is in that downward position.
Why is having good posture and getting enough oxygen into your body important? Well, for one, poor posture through a long period of time can add to neck, back, and shoulder pain and even mechanical dysfunction, Dr. Navaz states. But also, not getting enough consistent air into the body can cause sleep apnea and the inability to control stress and anger responses, Dr. Navaz adds. In stressed situations, we usually take high in-the-chest, short and fast, shallow breaths, which activates the “fight, flight, or freeze” response in the amygdala and body. He states, “pausing and taking deep breaths helps us become more rational and calm”, thus enabling us to tune into our logical prefrontal lobe and make better choices for ourselves.
Our modern day culture is especially prone to chronic slouching and the chin-down position. How often in the day do you find yourself sitting unconsciously slouched over a computer or find yourself texting on your smart phone or tablet, unconsciously holding the “tiny computer” below your head. This downward chin position and slouched shoulders and back constantly adds to low oxygen input and makes healthy, low-slow slow belly breathing nearly impossible. It perhaps even adds to weakness in the tone and strength of the pharynx, potentially leading to sleep apnea that can age your body organs– as well as causing stress, irritability, inefficiency and fatigue.
What can you do about this?” is the big question. Here are a few suggestions: 1) Consciously pay attention to and readjust your posture and breathing pattern throughout the day; 2) Choose to take regular short 5-minute breaks throughout every day to relax, readjust your posture, and switch to low-slow belly breathing; 3) Monitor your stress and anger level throughout the day (“1-10”) and take low-slow belly breathing breaks when finding yourself anxious or irritable; 4) Learn and practice mindfulness, meditation, and/or yoga; 5) Arrange for your computer screen to be at or slightly above eye-level by using a standing desk, an adjustable computer screen connected to the wall, or putting your laptop on a $10 stand on your desk; 6) Hold your cell phone or tablet at eye level or buy a stand to do the same. —Most of you readers are younger than I and are more in tuned to the computer world; you can probably come up with more modern day solutions than I.
I hope this blog has been helpful to you and that you come visit this site again in the future.