Twelve Good Breaths

Dr. Kate Marshall

Welcome to the first installment of Dr. Kate’s Blog. As a practicing clinical psychologist, I’m really excited to use this format to share my thoughts and ideas about a variety of topics. Hopefully, my readers will find them interesting and thought provoking. In future columns, areas such as resiliency, eating concerns, self-esteem and teen issues will be discussed.

My posts will in no way be an exhaustive exploration of any of these important issues. Nor will they be a substitute for psychotherapy or counseling if that is necessary. For those who want a more in-depth response to a particular issue, I invite you to consider a confidential consultation that can offer more individualized care.

I welcome your comments and reactions, although I regret that I won’t be able to respond to every individual post.

It’s also important to note that the identities of the people in any of the case examples used have been protected. Their names and identifying features have been masked.

Letter from a Friend

A few months or so ago a friend from another state sent in an email. “Kate, I’m so stressed I can hardly breathe. I’m just maxed out.”

My friend is a competent professional and the mother of several kids, all under the ages of ten, who has coped fairly well in her life. However, she would have scored high on any Life Stressor Inventory. Recently, she’d been overwhelmed by a number of unplanned events and stressors in her life. Her husband had been recently laid off and she had been working extra hours in her home-based business. Her mother had been admitted to a nearby nursing home and my friend has had to deal with her mother’s unhappiness about the placement. If ever a person had to rework her world in a short period of time (some people’s definition of stress) it was my friend.

Stress, short for distress, has been on my mind lately as I gather ideas for my stress busting workshops for the fall. We all face stressors on an everyday basis and a certain degree of challenge is actually helpful for our focus, motivation, inspiration and overall performance. But too much strain or tension on our system all at once can feel overwhelming. The current unstable economic climate has shaken many of our worlds in painful and confusing ways, adding an uncertain edge to our daily lives.

“Enough challenge already.” That phrase might translate into the “shout out” of our physical and mental system as our bodies and minds go into overdrive to handle the added strain. Excessive unfiltered stress is often linked to depression, anxiety and mental decline. When we become chronically stressed, (too many stressors, insufficient coping strategies), the stress hormone switch can become stuck in the “on” position, thus further weakening our resources.

Worry and Blocking Beliefs.

Although worry is often an attempt at strategy development, its crippling effects can be just as negative as the original stressor. Unhelpful worry may interrupt our sleep and lead to more ineffectiveness. We may turn to excessive eating, alcohol use or other unhelpful habits to give our minds a rest. Many of us “know” that it’s important to reset the switch and “refresh” the system with a healthy diet and plenty of physical activity, but may feel like we don’t have the time, resources or energy to accomplish this. The idea of exercise for some of us may even trigger more distress and internal struggle.

We may also think we have to be locked in the “on” position to be ready for whatever comes at us, although this stance can overwhelm us much like a power surge to an already overloaded circuit board. This sort of thinking can interfere with our natural resilience, shrink the prefrontal cortex and make our problem solving efforts less effective.

Changing a Pattern: Twelve Good Breaths.

The impact of stress, no matter what the external events can be successfully navigated. Sometimes, in the heat of tense moments we forgo the basics. Most of us know about the benefits of a good diet and daily physical activity, but we may not know the fact that twelve good breaths can trigger our “relaxation response” and therefore recharge the system, lowering blood pressure and making real problem solving more doable. This simple technique that can be done in the car, on a bus, or in front of the TV, involves slowing the in-breath to four to six one second counts, and extending and slowing the out-breath in a similar rhythm.

Through a variety of other methods that include additional relaxation strategies, meditation, yoga breathing, visualization, pattern interruption such as physical exercise and changes in thinking and behavior, we can tap into our inherent resilience and insulate our system to the impact of chronic tension and change. My upcoming workshops will provide an opportunity to learn and practice more of these strategies.

And so, in conclusion, I offer the same closing that I sent to my friend. “Please remember to breathe, slowly and deeply.”

I welcome your thoughts, strategies and reactions to my first column.

12 Responses to “Twelve Good Breaths”

  1. Nick Berger Says:


    Good article and good advice. You probably managed to keep the short attention span of an average blog reader. The concrete, 12-breath, “take away” was valuable. We can never be reminded enough to breathe consciously.

    Keep up the good work!

    -Nick Berger-

  2. Claire Says:

    Kate: I really appreciate this article. I encourage people to breathe all the time, yet forget it myself! Thanks for the beautiful reminder…..

  3. Elaine Walford Says:

    Kate~ I enjoyed reading your blog and look forward to more. I like the way you put the reader at ease….I can see how your gracious smile, listening ear, good advice, and numerous acts of caring have turned lives around. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to take my wedding picture off the fridge ;-)


  4. Dr. Kate Says:

    Thank you all for your supportive comments! My next posting will be about the grieving process.

  5. I Lean Says:

    Kate~ Your blog is full of wonder-full nuggets — essential food for readiness:) Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience with all of us!
    I Lean

  6. Dr. Kate Says:

    You go, girl. Four is the score!

  7. Aspen Marks Says:

    I have a goal lately to be more zen in my everyday life. Slowing down seems to be the key. I need not to be too obsessed with all the ‘doings’ that need to be done. Hopefully beginning with 12 good breaths will be a great way to start each day. Now I just need to remember this………

  8. steve Says:

    Hi Cynthia

    Thanks for you very inspiring application of Self Relations in walking in two worlds. 12 Breaths is now part of my daily practice too

    Was fortunate to spend time with steve in the uk in london this year where he presented his theory and practice of Self Relations.Life Changing.!!

    Would like to know more and hence my questions do you know of any groups that i can connect with in the uk or overseas. Are you presenting in this area?

  9. steve Says:

    Sorry Kate dont know where cynthia came from!!!

  10. Dr. Kate Says:

    Thanks for your comments, Steve. Cynthia’s a great name,
    Kate M.

  11. Jennifer M. Says:

    I’m so excited you have a blog! Can’t wait to read more!!! All my best, Jennifer

  12. Dr. Kate Says:

    Great to hear from you Jennifer!