We are certainly living through trying times. As we face significant political decisions, war, threats to our environment, and watch the world’s financial systems work through an extremely shaky period of uncertainty and confusion, many of us find ourselves in crisis mode. We’re anxious, edgy, depressed, even angry – in other words, exhibiting all the classic signs of our deeply imbedded fight-or-flight response, which dictates that when we become angry or frustrated, our breathing often becomes fast and shallow, an ingrained and involuntary response.

At the same time, our bodies are releasing several powerful chemicals including cortisol and noradrenalin to prepare us for battle or escape. In the past these habits were necessary for survival and these chemicals serve us very well when the best response is to fight or flee, but when that is not the case, these chemicals can be toxic.

Anxiety, depression and anger are powerful emotions with which we all must at some point deal. Emotions play a big role in our success or failure as humans. Like it or not, our emotions rub off on family, friends and coworkers, and those generated under duress have a dramatic effect on our bodies’ ability to perform.

Ask yourself: Do you control your emotions, or do they control you? There is no simple answer to that question unless you are perhaps the Buddha. Your internal experience is amazingly complex and often unpredictable. Your brain is constantly evaluating and trying to make sense of the barrage of perceptions, memories, thoughts and emotions - distilling them down in to a response or course of action. In this mix of information that your brain constantly sorts through, your emotions are almost always the wild card. Often your emotions may be as predictable as the sunrise, but at other times even seemingly innocuous occurrences or responses to external stimuli may trigger a rush of anger.

Emotions – the good and the bad - guide you through your life. They tell you how to respond to the world around you and can be a determining factor in the way your life plays out. Emotional intelligence (or EQ, as opposed to IQ), is believed to be a more important factor in the success of a given individual, than their IQ. Emotional stability and maturity is just as important for leadership and success in the boardroom as it is in a healthy, thriving relationship. But emotions are so very hard to pin down. They do not play by the rules of logic. Time of the day, time of the month, brain chemistry, fatigue, hormones, diet, and past experiences can all play an overriding role in your emotional response to the world.

Just as your emotions can be affected by our physical condition, so can your physical condition be affected by your emotions. Consider how emotions such as anger, sadness, and grief can generate a racing heart, uncontrollable tears, or body shaking sobs. Emotions can have a more insidious affect on your body as well. Chronic emotions such as depression can ravage your immune system potentially resulting in all kinds of diseases and dysfunction, and intense emotions such as anger and grief are implicated in heart attacks, strokes, and emergency room visits of all kinds.

Your emotional experience is a crucial piece of your overall quality of life because ultimately, the state of your mind and emotions is reflected in your body. When your mind is hurting, your body is hurt too. Now that doesn’t mean that if you only think happy thoughts you will never be sick, or that all sickness is caused by negative thought, but it has been shown to play a significant role. And more evidence is accumulating every day. Gaining control of your emotions, to whatever degree you can, gives you tremendous power to control the way you experience and interact with life. Emotions manifest in your thoughts and in your body and the breath is your window into this interior world. It provides you with a vantage point from which you can intercept, evaluate, experience, and change your emotional responses.

How many times have you heard someone who is caught up in the grip of anger, frustration, grief, or other strong emotions, be advised to stop and take a couple of deep breaths? The reason this practice has persisted over the generations is that it works! When you stop and take a couple of deep breaths, it causes you to stop and take a big step back out of the middle of whatever emotional whirlwind you are currently caught up in, and this gives you a more objective perspective. It also cues our parasympathetic nervous system – the one that counteracts the fight or flight response and restores your body to a relaxed, restful state. Your breathing acts like an emotional anchor, moderating your thoughts and allowing you to better understand why you are feeling the way you are feeling and acting the way you are acting.

As you begin to develop breath awareness, you will find that your breath begins to act as an early warning system. When strong emotions like anger, frustration, or grief begin to take hold, you will notice your chest muscles tightening and your breathing will often stop or become short and shallow. This is the cue that your emotions are building up and starting to take control of both your mind and body and it’s time to stop and take a few slow deep breaths. This will help keep you focused on the moment instead of reliving the past, falling into previous patterns, or worrying about the future, and help you understand your feelings and how best to consciously and rationally address whatever problems confront you.

In these dramatic times, a few deep breaths may be what keeps us all from going over the edge.

Exercise: 5 Steps to Managing A Crisis

These easy-to-implement steps will empower you and help you to take control of your emotions in many crisis situations.

There are 5 important steps to managing your anger, anxiety or a crisis:

1. Practice deep breathing regularly to develop an innate sense of your early warning signs and avoid angry situations when possible.

2. Delay taking action or saying anything while you are angry. Give yourself a chance to cool down.

3. Find an outlet for the adrenaline and tension that may be coursing through your body. Walking and stretching work well.

4. Use the Pressure Breathing technique (see below) which helps to calm emotions: Inhale for 4 counts, then exhale for 8 counts while pursing your lips and letting your cheeks puff out much like blowing up a balloon. This helps to activate your parasympathetic nervous system which helps to calm your emotions.

5. Take time to understand your feelings. Determine the best outcome for yourself and others involved and then identify the best course of action to achieve that outcome. Search for a creative solution

Exercise: Pressure Breathing

Pressure breathing is a good way to combat anxiety and panic attacks. It works by stimulating the vagus nerve which calms the mind and body and reducing the panic and anxiety symptoms.

First, make sure that you spend time practicing the Foundation Breath exercise . Making sure that you develop this habit is extremely important as it can help moderate the physical precursors of anxiety.

An excellent technique that can help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks when they appear is Pressure Breathing:

1. Begin with an exhale and then slowly fill your lungs from the bottom to the top

2. Purse your lips as you exhale, letting your cheeks inflate. Exhale for a count of 10 (one – one thousand, two – two thousand, etc).

3. Begin again with a slow deep inhale and repeat for 5 minutes or as long as necessary.

By pursing your lips and inflating your cheeks you create pressure on the vagus nerve in the back of your throat which controls many of anxieties telltale symptoms such as sweating, racing, heart, an nausea. By focusing on the count, you help keep your mind off of anxious or fearful thoughts.

Author's Bio: 

Don Campbell and Al Lee are the authors of Perfect Breathing: Transform Your Life One Breath At A Time (Sterling Publishng/2009) and write, speak, train, and blog tirelessly on the subject. Discover more ways you can improve your health, performance, and wellbeing at perfectbreath.com. Reach them at info@perfectbreath.com or call 1-888-317-6718(toll free).