Finals are over. You’re supposed to head back home today but you can’t locate your suitcase, let alone think about packing it. Remember which airline you’re flying? Better find out.  And be sure to brace for the annual fight over who shovels the driveway. Urgh, you just can’t even.

Before you resign yourself to a winter break in your residence hall room, learn the art of the conscious breath. You’ll need it when Uncle Reg tries to seat you at the kids’ table.

Learn to breathe better

A conscious breath is a slow, deep breath that you observe closely, feeling it in your body from beginning to end. It settles your nervous system, convinces your heart that you’re not actually running a marathon, and helps you feel grounded. Try one now. See how different it feels?

You can take a conscious breath (or even a few) whenever you need a mini staycation in your mind. It might be especially helpful when:

  1. You are stressed or worried—for example, if you’re desperately trying to locate your flight info. The conscious breath will help you find your calm.
  2. You have a headache or your muscles feel tight. The conscious breath releases tension.
  3. You’re impatient, waiting in line, or dealing with the horrendous holiday traffic to the mall. The conscious breath will help you feel more patient and maybe reduce your road rage.
  4. Your friends or family are getting on your last nerve. Conscious breathing will help you maintain peace of mind or at least prevent you from spewing out things you’ll later regret.
  5. You are drowning in the details of that last final project. A conscious breath will help you reconnect with the big picture.

A student’s verdict

“I was really losing it, so I just sat down, closed my eyes and took a really long breath. And then another. After a few more I felt back in control, and realized if I did one thing at a time, I’d get it all done. And I did.”

+ Conscious breathing with Koru Mindfulness

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Dr. Holly Rogers co-developed the Koru Mindfulness program for college students (currently available on more than 60 campuses in the US). Trials have shown that the Koru program is effective in helping students feel less stressed, better rested, more compassionate, and more mindful. Dr. Rogers is a psychiatrist at Duke University and co-author of Mindfulness for the Next Generation: Helping Emerging Adults Manage Stress and Lead Healthier Lives (Oxford University Press, 2012).