Sometimes Even Breathing is Difficult for Caregivers

How you breathe affects the way you care for yourself and others.

Guest Post by Kelly Sheets, Founder of

Remember the lyrics in that old song “The hip bone is connected to the thigh bone?” Well, it’s true everything is connected. The systems of the body are not separate. The health of your breath affects every system of your body in some way.

Learning how to breathe fully can:
• Help you manage pain
• Reduce feelings loneliness, frustration, anxiety and stress
• Strengthen immune response
• Enhance peace, joy and engagement in life
• Increase mental and physical alertness

When you are caregiving for a loved one, life becomes more complex and even small tasks can feel overwhelming. Paying attention regularly to how you are breathing can help you shift your experience of caregiving, and your life, in a moment.

The way you breathe affects the patterns of your thoughts. If you are breathing shallowly and rapidly your mind will follow. Shallow breathing triggers your sympathetic response system (your fight or flight system). For example, imagine someone approaching from behind at night. You jump, lift our shoulder up, and take a quick shallow inhale of breath. This is fear, and it triggers a fear response. The body triggers that system any time you are breathing shallowly, because it thinks you are in a stressful situation or might need to react quickly. In addition, the mind starts racing looking for threats and possible solutions. These are the thoughts patterns that give us feelings of overwhelm and uncertainty that things will ever become more manageable.

When you breathe fully, expanding your lungs in all directions, your mind calms and your thoughts become clearer. When you breathe fully, engaging the diaphragm, the body triggers its parasympathetic system, which then releases calming chemicals into your body. A common example would be when you get angry and someone suggests you “count to ten.” Breathing fully and slowly, again engaging the diaphragm, while counting to ten, gives the body time to release the chemicals that will calm the angry thoughts. You can feel the calming sensations as you slow down and deepen your breath.

When I am aware of my breath, I feel more in control of my mind, which in turn, affects my body. When I feel discomfort in my body, physical or emotional, I pay attention to my breath, change its rhythm and then watch how it affects my body. For example, when I feel anxious and overwhelmed by things I have to do, I stop for a minute and check if I am breathing deeply. Most likely I have been holding my breath longer than necessary or I am shallowly breathing only into the top of my lungs. I can relax my body and deepen my breath. Almost immediately I feel a softening in my mind and my anxiety decreases. Or when I am feeling a headache, I stop and check if I am breathing deeply. Since deep breathing triggers a relaxation response, I imagine my neck muscles are softening and the tension causing my headache releases.

It takes practice to create a new habit of paying attention to how you are feeling and noticing that the rhythm of your breath affects how you feel. It also takes practice to create a habit of breathing more fully moment to moment. To see a video that explains how to breath deeply go here:

Kelly Sheets is the founder of Kelly is a consultant who focuses on staff development for seniors care organizations. Her other passion is teaching yoga to seniors. To learn more about healthy breathing and how to help others to breathe well, read her books, Breathe – The Simple Guide to Better Breathing for People 50+ and How To Lead Meditation Groups For Seniors both available on her website or on Amazon.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. John Esparza
    Jul 06, 2014 @ 12:07:42

    I have looked at some of your articles very ,thank you,John Esparza



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