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What Does Breathing Have to Do with Money?

By Marie Burns December 24, 2020 Managing Money

“Take a deep breath!”

That was probably a common phrase that was used when we were younger if we were upset about something. Or we might have been told to “calm down, count to 10” or “walk it off.”

Who knew this age-old advice that we all probably heard from our parents, grandparents, or teachers was so physiologically correct!?

Our Fight for Survival

That same advice also applies to financial decisions that we make in life. It all has to do with how our brains are wired. For survival purposes, our brains primarily function on that quick response loop of feel, react, feel, react.

We feel fear (of a lion or dinosaur back in the caveman days) and quickly react – run or fight (that fight or flight response we have all heard about). Or we feel hot (from a fire, for example) and quickly react –pull our hand away.

Our brain is quickly protecting our body by helping it physically react in a split second without much or any thinking time needed. That was all good and helpful, back then.

A Hard Habit to Break

Today, however, it’s been recognized that over 90% of our daily activities have become habits that we do without any thinking. We continue to feel, react, feel, react without spending much time processing.

When we add money or financial decisions to that equation, you can imagine that we may end up not making the wisest financial decisions in that type of brain pattern.

Brain Power

I’m going to share a major tip here: practice deep breathing regularly, especially when making financial decisions. I know this will over-simplify how the brain works, but an example will help to understand the importance of deep breathing.

So, here is an analogy of how the brain works to help us realize why deep breathing is crucial.

The Emotions Shut Out the Logic

Think of your brain as a large room with a wall that has an open door down the middle of the room. One side is the emotional side of the room and the other is the logical side with the door between the two.

Now think about a time that you walked into a stadium, a garage, or somewhere that the air pressure changed as you walked through the door. What happened? The door slammed shut, didn’t it?

That is what happens when the emotional side of your brain “fills up” with this gust of deep emotion (stress about a purchase decision, indecision about a financial purchase, guilt for spending money, etc.).

It’s like that emotional side of the “room” has a huge change in air pressure and the door between the two rooms slams shut, locking out the logical side! So now you are stuck in the emotional side of the brain, physiologically unable to engage the logical thinking side, which means, in the moment, you cannot make wise decisions.

Your heart rate is likely to elevate, your pulse may quicken, you breathe faster, or you may feel nausea as the brain/gut relationship can be commonly triggered for many people by emotions as well. The brain is powerful!

Brain Fog

The best example I think all women can relate to is to think about when someone you know was dealing with loss. A friend or family member lost a spouse through death or divorce, for example. That traumatic event triggered so much deep emotion that “brain fog” or “widow brain” is a common occurrence.

It is normal after those times to be told about something you said or did that you have no recollection of at all. The brain was camped out in the emotional side and the logical side was unable to function because the “swell” of emotions slammed the door shut between the two!

Connecting the Dots

We have talked in past blogs about the impact of our childhood and our past/current relationships on our money mindset, our money personality, and our current financial decision making. All of that also influences why, how often, and how significantly that door shuts and temporarily locks out the influence of the logical side of the brain.

The Brain Fix

So, what is the solution? Well, breathing. Three deep breaths can reset the brain, which cracks open that “door” to allow the logical side to re-engage.

Most of the time, we tend to shallow breathe through our days. We do not fully inhale/exhale in order to maximize our blood’s ability to feed the rest of the body, including the brain, with critical oxygen. But this can be easily fixed.

Every Breath You Take

Helpful breathing options could be as simple as intentionally taking three deep breaths (count to 5 for each inhale and again for each exhale, for example). As soon as you realize you are in a stressful money moment, stop and take three, slow, deep breaths.

Then you should be able to think more clearly about the decision at hand because the logical side is now involved. That is also part of the logic to “sleep on it” when you have big decisions to make as that allows your brain to get free of emotions by the next day, in order to make a better, more logical decision.

Every Move You Make

Yoga, meditation, and exercise are other ways we can force ourselves to breathe more fully, reset the brain, and maximize our blood flow with oxygen. No wonder we sometimes naturally choose to just go for a walk when something is bothering us. Walking forces breathing and blood flow to occur!

For those with financial stress, remember, money is just a tool. We all use money in life so if we can think of it as a tool and also remove the emotion by breathing deeply, we can make wiser choices.

Using the Right Tools

Arming yourself with information and ready-to-use tools is extremely helpful in making smart financial decisions (once your breathing has assured you that the “door” is fully open in your brain).

Since we all learn differently, I invite you to keep your money toolbox stocked by taking advantage of a variety of free resources (videos, podcasts, reading, or fillable forms) designed to help women enjoy Less Worry, More Life!

How does money make you feel? Do financial decisions stress you and why do you think that is? What has helped you over the years to make wiser financial decisions? Please share your thoughts and experiences.

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The Author

Marie Burns, a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®), advocates for women’s financial health. She is an author of a financial checklist book series, speaker, podcast host and partners with clients to offer friendly financial advice in her independent practice Visit her at or

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