Calming Anxiety with Breathing Techniques

As my husband and I teach another round of our anxiety management class, Calming the Storms, I thought I would take some time to share a few of our best anxiety reducing techniques with you here at Centering Down.

The first tip that we share with our class and with anyone who is dealing with anxiety or stress may surprise you.

Calming anxiety with breathing techniques

Yes, The simple act of changing our breathing can have a powerful affect on our minds and bodies. I know I am biased towards breathing practices because I am a yoga teacher and breathing goes with yoga like peanut butter goes with jelly. But over the years as I’ve dealt with my anxiety, the breath has gotten me through countless panic attacks, fearful moments, and just plain hard days. My husband, a licensed mental health therapist also routinely makes a point to teach his clients early on how to breath.

Why would we teach a function that our body does automatically?

There are a couple of answers to that question.

One is that we have forgotten how to breath.

If you watch a sleeping child or pet breath, you’ll notice how their little bellies rise and fall with the rhythm of their breath. This is because they are breathing with their whole torso, and not just the tops of their lungs. Unlike our peacefully sleeping pets, many of us go through our days breathing short, shallow breaths. We do not notice how shallow our breathing is because it is enough to get us by and we are busy dealing with the million other details in our life that our executive brain functioning doesn’t handle automatically.

Then we get stressed and things get worse. Our muscles clench, our chest tightens. The breath gets even more restricted and uneven. We may even begin to hold our breath.

As our adrenaline and cortisol levels begin to rise and our body goes into a full fledged stress response, we have a choice to make.

Are we going to ride the stress and anxiety roller coaster once again? Or are we going to intervene before things escalate any further by focusing on our breathing?

Because here is the other brilliant thing about the breath. 

When we consciously deepen and lengthen our breathing, it not only prevents the escalation of stress and anxiety, but it also triggers the parasympathetic nervous system in a way that dims the stress response that is happening in our body.

As soon as I feel myself move into a space of panic, anxiety, or just high stress, I immediately check in with my breathing. After shifting my breathing from short and choppy to deep, full, and smooth (what we often call “Belly breathing”) for about five minutes or so, I can usually feel a marked difference.

My heart rate slows and steadies.

My mind begins to think more clearly.

My emotions begin to level out.

Now belly breathing is not a cure all. But it can definitely keep a situation from going from bad to worse and hopefully takes the edge off the bad. If practiced regularly, deep breathing can be a nice preventative that keeps stress and anxiety at bay. Five to ten minutes of belly breathing lying in bed at night is a wonderful way to send yourself off to a deep and peaceful sleep.

If you are unfamiliar with belly breathing and would like to learn how, here is a little video to get you started:

I hope that this technique helps you as you deal with stress and anxiety in your life both as a daily preventative and in times of need.

Remember, if all else fails just keep breathing!

 

Stayed tuned next week for more stress and anxiety reducing tips and techniques.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Giveaway Winners

The prize giving puppies are excited to share with you that they have chosen the winners of last week’s giveaways!

 

giveaway prize puppies

 

 

Congratulations to the winners who will be notified today via e-mail and 

THANK YOU

again and again to all of you for your support.

As Emily Freeman shared recently at She Speaks,

 

A blog is not just the words of one person,

but a community that comes together to share about matters that

are important to them all.

Thank you for sharing this space with me. I hope that you all feel safe and supported in sharing the matters that are on your heart and that you would find something here that encourages you toward

giveaway

 

Peace to you all and Happy Monday!

 

On Needing Each Other

I write this post on the fifth day of my husband being out of town for a work conference. It has not been the longest or worst week of my life, but we have definitely felt his absence. We have moped around the house during the day and slept fitfully at night. Family dinners have degenerated into microwaved leftovers eaten around the coffee table while we binge watch Brady Bunch.

It is painfully obvious to me by the end of this week how very much we need this guy in our life.

At first I took this need as a sign of moral failure.

As a modern woman, shouldn’t I be capable of managing on my own?

Am I a failure as a feminist because I need my man in my life to thrive?

Am I a co-dependent wreck?!?

As I was mulling over these thoughts late at night while Not Sleeping, I started remembering the last time my husband and I were apart for so long.

I realized it was exactly ten years ago this week.

Instead of going away for a week long work trip, my husband had gone to China for two weeks to adopt our 13 month old daughter. When we began our adoption process we had assumed that this was a trip we would take together as a family. However fate chimed in and I ended up staying at home to recover from a C-Section and care for our five week old son while my husband boarded a jet plane bound for the Far East.

I didn’t sleep much during that absence either. I remember nursing my son in my parents recliner during the wee hours of the morning and waiting night after night for the phone to ring. I remember the tearful awe in my husband’s voice when he told me he had our daughter. How I gave my sleepy son a baby high five. And a few nights later I remember how I heard my daughter’s laugh for the first time even though she was half a world away.

As painful as it was to be apart during the time my husband welcomed our daughter into our family, I also remember how wonderful it was when we all were finally back under the same roof. After crashing into an exhausted sleep that first night, my jet lagged duo had awoken during the night and moved to the living room for a play session and snack. When my son and I awoke early the next morning, we snuck into the living room to find my husband and daughter passed out on the floor mid play. I climbed into our recliner and snuggled my son in to nurse and nap.  As we all drifted in and out of sleep, rain from a tropical storm I didn’t even know was hitting poured on our roof and windows. As the rain fell and wind howled, all I could do was give thanks that we were together, safe and dry in this same room, even though we were surrounded by a storm.

As we have gone through this tender and emotional week, that memory keeps coming back to me. The feeling of togetherness that made all the challenges and difficulty of raising two kids under 15 months worth facing and conquering. No matter how hard the storms of life raged, at least we were facing them together, a truth that seemed to outweigh all other factors.

In light of that, I have decided that it is okay that I have missed my husband like crazy this week. And I’m not necessarily a co-dependent wreck for doing so.

It is just that as people, we simply need each other. And the sooner we realize this truth and lean into interdependency, the better off we will be.

But this is not just a truth meant for families.

I am coming to believe that our interdependency is more universal than we could even imagine.

As my tender heart breaks watching Iraqis chase other Iraqis up mountains and slaughter their own neighbor’s children.

As I hear with sadness and grief how a policeman killed a youth from his own town, splitting the town in two with anger and fear.

As I watch our world war with and hurt its own self, I shake my head and weep. For I don’t really know how to answer any of these problems.  Heck I can barely get myself through my own day.

But I do know this.

On Needing Each Other

Whether we are from the same part of the world or not, are the same religion or not, or have the same color of skin or not.

We still are dependent on each other to thrive in this world.

We cannot be cut off from each other.

We certainly cannot cut each other out.

The only way to get through this life is to get through it together.

Even as I pray to be re-united with the man I love, I pray for re-unification for so many. For nations at war, for cities in strife, for all of us that do not realize we need to be connected with the Iraqi children and young African American men who are in danger as well as the wrongdoers who persecuting them.

Maybe peace and reconciliation and restoration come to us all.

 

 

 

 

Bring the Sacred into Your Family’s Everyday

Creating family Worship

If you are like me, you want to bring moments of sacred and holy into the everyday grind of your family’s life. You want to make time for family prayers, read Scripture together, and have time to reflect on where … Continue reading

Stepping Out into the Deep

While I’m processing all that happened at She Speaks and the big surfing adventure (more blog posts to come on this), I thought I would share a song that seems to sum it all up for me.

I had the pleasure of hearing it/singing it Saturday night during our conference worship time. It resonated deeply with me and I hope that it will speak to you also.

 

Enjoy Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) by Hillsong.

 

 

Wherever you may be feeling called out deeper, I hope that you find the courage to push through the fear, the strength to withstand the crashing waves, and the faith to keep your eyes on The One who lifts us up out of the water when our mortal feet fail.

How Sharing Your Struggles Leads to Healing

Six months ago when Jason and I first lead our Calming the Storms class on managing anxiety, I was primarily focused on sharing this resource that we had worked so hard on with others for the first time. My thoughts had all centered on what WE had to share with the participants in the class and how what we had to offer would help them. And certainly they did get a lot out of our writing and our leadership of the course.

But one thing that surprised me about the class experience what how important the group members were to each other’s healing. For one, it took no small amount of courage for the group members to just show up in a room full of strangers and admit publicly that they struggled with anxiety. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma associated with having any kind of mental or emotional struggle. Having panic attacks, life limiting fears, or social anxiety can often be seen by others as weakness or an inability to get one’s self together and function as a “normal” person should in life.

This can be even more true in church circles where faith is expected to trump all worry and Jesus is believed to be powerful enough to solve all our problems on earth.

For those of us who try to be a person of faith yet still find ourselves struggling with fear, this unrealistic expectation of what following Jesus looks like can lead to a good bit of shame.  We are ashamed that our love of Jesus has not taken away our anxiety, so we hide it.

We try to hide our fears and struggles from others, try to hide it from God, and even sometimes try to hide it from ourselves.

I think that’s why the experience of coming together as a group was so powerful for our class. Just showing up that first time was a revolutionary act of coming out of hiding and admitting that we suffer from debilitating worry and fear. Although those first steps were tentative and small (mine included) they were the most critical steps we took the whole eight weeks.

For once we came together and were honest about our struggles, once we began to share our journey with anxiety with each other, the healing began.

sharing our struggles

As most people who have been to any kind of recovery group know, the experience of learning that you are not alone, that there are others who struggle in much the same way you do, is a huge relief. We no longer feel like a shameful failure. Instead, we feel like the normal human being we are that happens to have this particular difficulty in life.  A problem that we begin to learn is manageable, liveable, and even able to be healed.

Once the group became comfortable with each other over the weeks, it was amazing to watch them relate to one another. To hear all the “me toos” and “here’s how I handled that once” and “you can do its.” After a while I think they got as much out of each other as they got out of us. I learned once again that sometimes the best thing I can do is provide the structure and space for healing and then step back and watch it flow. Sometimes from surprising directions, but always rejoicing in its flow.

If you happen to be one of the 40 million people who struggle with anxiety and live in the middle Georgia area, I invite you to experience the healing of coming into a group of people who are all on the same journey as you. Come study the practices of breathing, self-care, calming the mind, and relaxing the body, all while supporting and learning from a community that is filled with people as broken and beautiful as you are.

One of the most touching moments of our last class was when we came to the end of the course and the group asked not, “What more can you teach us?’, but “How can we stay connected with each other?”

For even though they had the tools they need to continue their healing from anxiety, they realized they still needed other people to support and encourage them on their way.

My most happy moments after the ending of the group are when I see our group members reconnecting at a yoga class or run into them around town while they are exercising together or just catching up. The thing I most look forward to in our new class is seeing more people come together and finding a partner to journey through anxiety recovery with. I can’t wait to see more people supporting each other as they remember to breath through the fear, listen to their bodies, and live their lives in a way that is healthy and sustainable.

This link on Eventbrite will lead you to more details on our next Calming the Storms class coming up mid August.

If you do not live in the middle Georgia area or if your struggle in life takes a different shape, I still encourage you to seek out a community of people that you can connect with. People with whom you can come together and share your deep struggles. For when you find this amazing gift, healing will begin to come to you in exponential ways.

Sharing our struggles with others is a huge risk and takes great courage, but when we realize we are not alone in our brokenness and that others have our backs, even our toughest problems become more manageable. I hope you too take the risk and find a safe community in which you can find healing.