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5 Times to Try Taking Three Deep Breaths

I recently heard a talk by someone who has spent a lot of time studying the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, and she even got to meet him once. And as she talked, one thing stood out to me the most because it seemed so simple.

Taking three deep, mindful breaths to calm yourself.

It doesn’t sound like a lot, but taking the short time for those breaths can calm you. Try it now and see. Breathe in… pause… breathe out… pause. Do it again – and now one more time.

If you pay attention to your breath while doing this, it can act as a sort of palette cleanser for your nervous system (my analogy, not Thich Nhat Hanh’s). You may not be perfectly calm, but you’ll be calmer than you were.

If you’d like to put this into practice, here are some times you might consider trying this approach – though there are certainly many others.

1: At a red light

You may have noticed that people’s driving habits have gotten worse since the pandemic started. I’ve seen plenty of times when people go through a light after it’s changed from yellow to red, but more disturbing are the times when I’ve seen people stop at a red light, get impatient, and then blatantly go through the light while it’s still red.

So, when you’re stopped at a red light is a good time to take a few deep breaths and try to relax a little. It will reduce your stress and hopefully keep you from doing something rash, illegal, and/or potentially dangerous.

2: In the grocery checkout line

Standing in the checkout line at the grocery store is another time when you might get impatient, particularly if you end up in a line with some special circumstances that require calling a manager and you have ice cream slowly melting in your cart.

You might be antsy while waiting even during the best of times, and you may make an impulse buy of some of the available candy bars or other snack foods – even if you suspect you’ll later regret it.

If you find yourself in this situation, try those three deep breaths, or if you have time, take more breaths. See if it helps settle you and allows you to make a more deliberate choice about buying snack food or not.

3: When you want to eat but aren’t hungry

One of the primary reasons why people eat when they’re not hungry is due to stress. So, it stands to reason that if you reduce your stress, you’ll be less inclined to reach for food.

Even if you’re not sure about whether or not you’re hungry, taking some deep breaths before eating is often a good idea. It can give you a pause, a long enough space to ask yourself if you’re hungry.

You may still choose to eat no matter what the answer is, but being conscious of that is a better approach than eating mindlessly. And if you decide not to eat, that pause may help you think about what you want to do instead.

4: You get an upsetting message

None of our lives are perfect, so it’s inevitable that at some point, you’ll get a message that upsets you. This might be a voicemail, phone call, email, text message, or social media comment.

And it could be about something bad happening to someone you care about, like a car accident or cancer diagnosis, or it could be that someone says something that makes you angry or hurts your feelings.

Whatever it is, giving yourself time to take those mindful breaths before responding can help you reply more thoughtfully. Or it may help you decide not to respond, which may sometimes be the best option.

5: At the end of the day

Many of us accumulate small irritations and annoyances as the day goes by. You spilled a bit of breakfast on your new shirt. Your coffee was cold. Road construction made you late. You got assigned to work on a project with someone who annoys you. The cat threw up on the rug.

The list of possibilities could go on, but you get the idea. By the end of the day, you may still be mulling over all those things, giving them enough mental space that you can’t truly relax.

This is an excellent time to practice those three breaths. They can help you clear your mind and let go of whatever annoyances occurred so you can get a good night’s sleep.

Three breaths can go far

We’re so used to breathing automatically that it can be hard to think of how different things are when we’re mindful of our breath and focus on it. But that shift can have a big impact, even with just a few breaths.

I hope you give this a try and that you find it helpful. If you do, let me know!


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