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A 60-second breathing exercise for when your family gets on your last nerve

Diffuse family stress and calm down in one minute flat.

by Brianna Steinhilber /
Short sharp exhales where you reset your body and mind can help get rid of holiday-induced irritability.Blend Images / Alamy Stock Photo

“Thanksgiving to New Years — a little over a month — is the most overstimulating time of the year,” says Dr. Belisa Vranich, clinical psychologist and author of Breathe: The Simply, Revolutionary 14-Day Program to Improve your Mental and Physical Health. “There are way too many obligations from too many parts of life that coincide in the same time: financial, vocational, emotional, family-related.”

While we would all benefit from pressing pause and taking a much-needed break, jam-packed holiday schedules don't always allow it. "'Turning inward' and just checking in on yourself is virtually impossible since all your attention is being pulled outward and towards what you have go get done — which is not just end of year work stress, but family stress and holiday obligations paired with two major holidays one on top of the other,” says Dr. Vranich. “You get so externally driven and overstimulated that you don't see when you are exhausted or overwhelmed until things blow up.”

Since taking a break isn’t always possible, having a 60-second trick up your sleeve to release that tension (and get a breather from your family) will be a life saver.

DFS (Diffuse Family Stress) Breathing Exercise

A simple way to calm down anywhere, anytime? Breathe.

“The exercises I teach come from martial arts, free diving, singing and yoga,” says Vranich. “Exhale pulsations are short sharp exhales where you reset your body and mind and can help get rid of irritability — something we are tend to feel around the holidays as we try to get through unrealistic to-do lists and deadlines.”

Making sure you discharge negative energy and irritability before you ask yourself to calm down is the key, says Vranich. “Too often we put ourselves into a self-imposed time-out but are still angry/upset so calming down is tough,” she adds.

To accomplish this, Vranich recommends stepping away from the situation and going through this simple two-step exercise. Don’t worry, it takes just 60 seconds (just enough time for a quick bathroom break away from the dining table.) May we suggest using it when your mother-in-law asks when you plan to have another baby?

Step 1: Release. Exhale and blow out of your mouth as if you are blowing out a candle. Make a noise with the air hitting the back of your teeth (“psst” — much like a jab in boxing). Make sure your body is narrowing on the exhale. You want to squeeze out all the stale/residual air. (Again, more oxygen is not the key, a balance of both is what you are going for). This should feel like it’s an ab exercise.

“Most often when we are stressed we breathe hold or just hover taking little inhales and exhales so this is a great reset,” says Vranich. “And the exhale is the underdog, but a very, very important one to pay attention to. (You can’t inhale well if you haven’t exhaled well.)”

Step 2: Calm. After a sequence of these (be it 5, 10 or 20) take a big, deep inhale where you expand your middle; keep your shoulders still. With each breath: slow down more, close your eyes and switch to your nose. You can choose to do this to a certain breath count (i.e. in for five counts, out for five counts). For a boost: Hum on the exhale, which stimulates your vagus nerve to calm you further.

“You might find you can put yourself into a mini-meditative state,” says Vranich. “Neurologically you are going from a sympathetic state (flight or flight) to a parasympathetic state (rest and digest).”

HOLIDAY SURVIVAL GUIDE

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