How to “trick” your brain into calm and positive thoughts

April 14, 2014

how to cultivate positive thoughts like you cultivate a zen garden

The way you breathe affects the patterns of your thoughts.

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

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.

When you breathe deeply and fully, your mind calms, and your thoughts are clearer.

When you breathe deeply 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.” The idea is to breathe deeply and slowly while counting to ten, giving 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 you have the responsibility of caregiving, life becomes more complex and even small tasks can feel overwhelming at times.

Paying attention regularly to how you are breathing can shift your experience of caregiving, and your life, in a moment.

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.

Learning how to breathe deeply and in a healthy way through a breathing or meditation practice can:

  • Help manage pain
  • Reduce loneliness, anxiety and stress
  • Improve respiratory efficiency
  • Strengthen immune response
  • Enhance peace, joy and engagement in life
  • Increases mental and physical alertness.
  • Reduces and releases muscular tension

It takes practice to create a new habit of paying attention to how you are feeling and noticing how the rhythm of your breath affects how you feel.  Watch the video above for a demonstration on deep breathing techniques.


To learn more about healthy breathing and how to help others to breathe well, check out Kelly’s books, How To Lead Meditation Groups For Seniors, and Breathe: The Simple Guide to Breathing Better for People 50+.

Written by Kelly Sheets
Kelly Sheets started working with seniors right out of college. She has worked in acute rehab, skilled nursing, assisted living and home health. Along the way Kelly became a trained yoga instructor and teaches seniors classes twice a week. She has primarily worked in management and marketing in senior care. She is the founder of the, and deeply believes that investing in, educating and empowering the people who work with our elders not only improves the lives of the elders but also of senior communities and businesses as a whole. Kelly is member of the Dementia Action Alliance which has the mission to help people live fully with dementia and the Author of Breathe: The Simple Guide To Better Breathing

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