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.
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.