This is the most underrated life hack, IMHO. Breathing in and out, consciously, without any attachment to the process, is the easiest, most affordable way to avoid stress and keep your mind clear.
If you want to attach to it some nice, exotic words, like “meditation”, “awareness”, “self-centering”, by all means, do it. But it’s really just breathing.
Inhaling and exhaling air is compulsory for our life forms. None of the biological processes that support our consciousness can exist outside breathing. If we don’t do it for 5-6 minutes, we’ll pass out. Another couple of dozen of minutes and we’ll die. It’s fundamental, and yet, being so ubiquitous, we tend to take it for granted.
Whenever we’re in danger, our breathing patterns are changing. Stress makes us reach for more air, our breathing in and out is becoming faster and more superficial at the same time. It’s like we’re preparing to escape, or to attack, giving in to the (in)famous “fight or flight” syndrome.
These patterns are ingrained in our biological memory for hundreds of generations, and, even before that, passed down from one species to another in millennia long stretches of evolution. It’s hard to escape these reflexes. And it wouldn’t be wise to do that, either, they evolved to protect us in front of imminent danger.
But our current world is different from the one we inhabited millennia ago. We’re enjoying unprecedented levels of safety. We’re not hunted down anymore (at least not directly). So we don’t need to resort to these patterns every time we sense danger. The danger we’re “sensing” now is most likely less imminent than we think it is. Most of the time is just an emotional trigger. We’re really not in an immediate danger, we’re probably just upset. Or angry. But even these small triggers are activating millennia long breathing patterns that are putting us in a high alert state.
That’s why learning to control breathing, to detach it from any external process, is such a great life hack. We can then navigate in a less tense way whatever happens to us. We can maintain lucidity and clarity for longer intervals. We can keep our rational processes going on for longer, finding solutions faster and avoiding the fight, or the flight.
All it takes is to breathe in, and breathe out.