Deep Breathing for Mental and Physical Self-Improvement (Part 1)

June 15, 2018



Breathing.  It's one of the most important bodily function we have, as our very life depends on it happening practically every minute of every day.  Our bodies can't function or survive for very long without a steady flow of air. If we learn how to harness the power of breathing, however, it becomes a tool for more than just basic survival.  What makes breathing unique from other essential bodily functions is that breathing happens both consciously and unconsciously, making it a potential gateway between our conscious and unconscious minds.  It can have extremely powerful effects on our consciousness, even mimicking the effects of strong psychoactive drugs (Google "Holotropic Breathing"). Though our breathing often happens outside of our awareness, taking control of breathing can lead to substantial benefits for both the body and the mind.

Before discussing specific breathing methods, you have to first understand how deep breathing works.  The way we tend to naturally breathe is different from optimal breathing. Take a minute to focus on your breathing.  Just breathe normally and see what you notice. Are you breathing through your nose or your mouth? When you inhale and exhale, do you feel it primarily in your chest or your stomach?  Where exactly do you feel it in these areas? Try counting how many breaths you take in a minute, or maybe how many seconds it takes you to both inhale and exhale. See what you come up with before continuing on with the article.  

Most people who have never done breathing exercises will notice the following: they breathe through either their nose or mouth exclusively, they tend to feel their breath in their chest, and they take frequent breaths, usually with inhales and exhales only lasting 1-2 seconds each (or about 20-30 breaths per minute).  These are all features of shallow breathing. If this describes your breathing patterns, it doesn't mean there is anything wrong with you, it just means that you're not taking advantage of the full benefits of breathing.

Shallow breathing means you are only utilizing part of your lung capacity during each breath.  We don't need our full lung capacity all of the time, and we are perfectly capable of surviving with shallow breaths.  However, deep breathing, which uses as much lung capacity as possible, not only helps us survive but also helps us control our minds and bodies more effectively.

Before continuing, as with any other physical activity you should check with your doctor before attempting deep breathing practices.  They're not dangerous in and of themselves, but you definitely want to ensure that you are in good enough health and don't have any underlying physical problems that could result in injury or discomfort during these practices.

The Basics of Deep Breathing

The best way to start practicing deep breathing is to work on physically lowing your breath into your abdomen.  Again, you may have noticed when you focused on your breath that you felt it mostly in your chest. This is normal, but chest breathing prevents you from being able to use your full lung capacity.  Try sitting in a chair with your feet on the ground at about shoulder width, back straight, head facing forward, and hands on your knees. Focus again on your breathing, but this time make sure you are breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth (this is a basic feature of almost all breathing exercises).  As you inhale, try to focus on "pushing" your breath down into your stomach. Ideally, you want to focus on the area about 2-3 inches below your belly button (about at your belt line), but start with just moving your breath down as far as you can push it. A good visualization to help with this practice is to imagine you have a balloon in your stomach, and you are inflating it with every inhale, and deflating it with every exhale.  Focus on your shoulders and make sure they are staying level (if you notice your shoulders rising and falling, you are still breathing primarily into your chest). When you are able to see and feel your abdomen actually inflating and deflating with each breath, you've achieved the first skill you need to practice deep breathing.

It takes some time to learn this technique effectively, so make sure you practice this skill for a while before moving on to other breathing exercises.  In the next few parts of this series of articles, I’ll be discussing and teaching more advanced strategies to help you get the most out of deep breathing.

Written By 7 Cups Therapist: Scott Fantucchio, LMHC


Effective Ways To Tackle Your Money Anxieties With Therapy

May 24, 2018


Do you feel a surge of worry when you open your bank statement? Or does parting with large sums of cash panic you? A recent study has revealed that Americans are more worried about money and their health today than they were a year ago, with 39% of individuals admitting to feeling more anxiety over these concerns. Financial stress hits most people at one point or another and dealing with your negative thoughts using coping techniques such as specialist therapy is a must.

Root Cause

Sit down and ask yourself why money has such an effect on the way you feel. Have you experienced severe debt issues before which have made you feel this way or maybe you grew up watching your parents struggle to make ends meet? Whatever the reason it's important you find it to help you overcome your anxiety. Counseling will encourage you to talk and with the aid of a fully trained counselor you can explore the root cause of your monetary stress and work on ways to change your behavior. 

Behavior and Attitude

You never know when a unexpected bill will turn up or a household appliance needs replacing, so being able to utilize the services that an around the clock online therapy service offers is ideal when situations such as these arise and will ensure your anxieties remain under control. Cognitive behavioral therapy aims to change the way people act to trigger points. In your case, your body's and mind's response to financial decisions and the stress triggers they cause will be reviewed. Furthermore, your therapist will teach you ways to stop you from responding in a way that's detrimental to your health by:

----> teaching you how to view situations from a different and more positive perspective

----> changing your negative thought processes into rational ones

----> focusing on the now rather than could bes and should bes

A New Way Of Thinking

Specialized financial therapy is somewhat of a new phenomenon in the counseling world. What’s different about this type of therapy is that practitioners are multi-skilled as they are part therapist and part financial advisor, aiding them will all the skills they need to help you overhaul the way you react when reviewing your personal finances. In depth questions are asked both face to face and via a written questionnaire to determine how you react and feel about money. Some of these questions may include:  

----> How do you feel about your finances at the end of the month once your bills and expenses have been paid off?

----> If you suddenly lost your job, how would you financially cope?

----> What factor does debt play in your life?

Anxiety caused by money worries is a serious issue for millions of individuals, therefore, taking action to tackle and change the way you process these thoughts is a must. Getting to the root cause of your issues with the help of a counselor is a must, while changing your attitude and behavior is a challenge you should be prepared to undertake. Therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy and financial therapy should form part of your treatment to help you deal with your anxieties and way of thinking too.

Written by: Lucy Wyndham


How Does Drawing Serve as an Effective Mental Health Treatment?

May 8, 2018

Art is a powerful tool for mental health. Dozens of studies have shown the benefits of both viewing and creating art as a way to heal symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other mental health conditions. The popularity of adult coloring books, painting, and other forms of art to help soothe negative emotions is no coincidence. Research continually shows the advantages of leveraging various forms of art to heal the mind. 

One related treatment that is now frequently recommended in online therapy sessions is the use of drawing. Drawing, regardless of skill level, is proven to be effective in relieving negative emotions. Explore the top reasons to use this unique form of treatment.

Research supports its use and efficacy

Numerous studies and reports have supported the use and efficacy of drawing for individuals suffering from emotional difficulties. Specific benefits of drawing include a release of emotions (even deep, hidden emotional pain), an increase in positive emotions, and stress relief. One unique aspect of this form of treatment for mental health conditions is the fun that comes with drawing. Also, rather than having to attend scheduled therapy appointments for conventional treatments, drawing can be done wherever and whenever.

Accessible for all experience levels

Using drawing as a form of emotional healing does not require training or artistic talent. Whether you prefer to learn to draw a simple cat or object, or you have the skills to create a detailed masterpiece, anyone can use this technique for emotional healing. One important thing to do is to remove judgement from the process. When drawing, do so for pleasure and relaxation alone, and don’t focus on the quality of the finished product.

Focuses the mind on being present

Research has backed up the idea that drawing serves as a powerful tool to distract the mind, and to help focus on the present moment. In specific, one study that looked at the results from 40 college students showed that “drawing to distract improved mood more than drawing to express.” Drawing has the power to distract individuals from thinking about worries related to the past or future.

For those seeking a flexible, affordable, and easy way to calm emotions, drawing is an exceptional choice. This form of treatment is research backed, accessible for all people, and helps bring the mind to the present moment. Drawing provides hope and alternative treatment for those who need it most.

Written by: Lucy Wyndham


Get Help and Snap Out of Winter Depression

February 20, 2018


If you are a senior affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD), you can benefit from a range of treatment options that are effective once symptoms are detected early enough. The prevalence of SAD in the US ranges from 1% for those living in Florida to 9% in Alaska (National Institute of Mental Health, 2016). Risk factors include being female (with women likely to be diagnosed with SAD four times more than men), family history of depression or bipolar disorder and residing far from the equator.

Differentiating Between Depression and SAD

It is important to point out the difference between normal depression and SAD. Depression, although not a part of normal aging can occur among the elderly due to different factors such as a medical condition, loss of a loved one, social isolation or being alone. SAD, on the other hand, as the name implies is seasonal in nature. It begins in late autumn and continues through winter.

Winter depression affects you in many ways. You become depressed, irritable, lethargic, sleep & eat more and adopt an even more sedentary lifestyle. When complications arise, you might even entertain thoughts of suicide and death frequently.

Treatment Options

Persistent depression due to the winter season can impact your daily life. If not treated, it can result to social withdrawal, develop into anxiety & other mental issues and even substance abuse.

If you start to feel the symptoms of SAD, seek medical attention for proper diagnosis so you can tackle winter blues effectively. You doctor can prescribe antidepressants to combat depression, a condition believed to be caused by an imbalance in serotonin activity.    

Another option is to recommend light therapy. As SAD is caused by a lack of light and vitamin D, using a light box to mimic natural sunlight can decrease the symptoms and increase energy levels. Taking supplements to boost vitamin D is also helpful and can make you feel better.

Counselling and psychotherapy are effective as well at relieving symptoms of depression caused by seasonal changes. It identifies negative behavior and replaces them with positive ones. Behavioral activation is also included where your counselor helps you identify activities that you like and give you pleasure both indoors and outdoors to better cope with winter.

Seeking support to beat winter depression is critical to help you through the condition and manage its symptoms. In addition, there are things that you can initiate such as increasing social activities, exercising, going out more often in daylight and eating & sleeping properly.   

Written by: Lucy Wyndham


The Key to Dealing with Negative Thoughts

January 22, 2018


Ever hear that bullying voice playing like a looped record in your mind? The one whose greatest hits include, "You're such a pathetic loser! What a cow! You're so stupid?​ You're not good enough!​"​ 

Whether it's these exact ​words or ​a similar ​tune​, many of us have experienced the feelings​ and choices that come along with them, but not all of us know how to stand up to them.

Enter: Self-Compassion.​

​We nurtur​e​ compassion​ within ourselves when​​​ ​we create a different voice through showing kindness and concern for ourself when experiencing stressful ​thoughts, feelings, and circumstances​.​​ ​​​​Cultivating our inner cheerleader vs. feeding the inner ​bully motivates us to make healthier choices, which reinforces a ​feeling of empowerment​ and resilience​ ​in the midst of stress and anxiety​.​

​Self-compassion ​is ​like being with ​the friend who reminds us that our ​​worth as a human being is not determined by the events we experience, or the feelings and thoughts we have about them​ ​​-​ ​they don't define us. ​It says, "I see you fell and scraped​ your​ knees a bunch and it hurts, but ​scraping your knees ​doesn't mean you are broken. It means you fell​ ​and​ you will heal.​ ​So ​bring on the peroxide and ointment​!​" This same perspective can be applied to​ any challenge we face enabling us​ to​ mindfully​ ​shift our response​ ​each time that​ nagging voice pumps up the volume.​

By becoming more ​aware of our feelings and experiences - without the critical judgement - ​we feel calmer, more trusting, and more open to life. ​​We open the lines for true communication and deeper connection in all of our relationships. Instead of reacting to ourselves and others with harsh judgement, we can more easily accept our humanness. Recognizing our shared vulnerability affords us the opportunity to connect and build intimacy with ourselves and in our relationships.

So, next time those pesky negative thoughts arise, invite​ that friendly voice to pop in ​and​ say, "This is where I'm at right now​. It's not who am I, it's simply an experience I'm having, and this is how I choose to support ​mysel​f through it.​"​ ​​​The more we take the time to mindfully​ and compassionately explore our ​internal landscape, the more healthy choices we can make for ourselves and others.

Written by 7 Cups Therapist, Jamie Rautenberg, LCSW