09 Feb Anxiety Reducing Tip #1: Breathe
Breathe. A gentle reminder to take a deep breath and center. One of my mentors used to say this to me when I was spinning around with too many ideas, worry or anger. If you find yourself deep in the anxiety spin cycle, as we all do at one time or another, it’s sound advice.
Tight deadlines, too many things on your “to do” list or panic over a social event are some examples. In the midst of stressful times, our thinking mind can shut down and our emotional brain takes over. You may experience shortness of breath, defensiveness, stomach pain, tight chest, fear and/or anger. It’s hard to respond as our best self when this response takes over. A deep breath can keep you from saying or doing something you later regret. Breathing into anxiety instead of running from it is key.
Why Deep Breathing?
When we sense a perceived threat, a part of our brain sends a fight, flight or freeze message to the rest of our brain and body. The diaphragm flattens and we begin to breathe shallowly. Our brain gets flooded with stress hormones. The oxygen we need in our brain is sent to our muscles in readiness for danger. This can save our life when there is actual danger. Not so much within a work space or close relationship.
This response makes it hard to process information with critical thinking skills intact. I admit, at times deadlines and criticism can feel like life-threatening danger, but it’s not.
Deep breathing or diaphragmatic breathing returns the body to a state of calm. Research suggests that this is because the diaphragm is close to the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve supplies parasympathetic fibers to the rest of our body which has been associated with lower stress levels.
Allowing oxygen to travel through your body and up to your brain brings you back online. Think of deep breathing as a brain re-boot or a re-ignition of your critical thinking skills.
3 Breathing Exercises
This exercise is done lying down.
- Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position.
- Put one hand, or throw pillow or stuffed animal, on your belly just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose, and let your belly push your hand up, chest not moving up, focus on belly.
- Breathe out through pursed lips as if you were whistling. Feel the hand on your belly go in, and use it gently to push all the air out.
- Do this breathing 3 to 10 times. Take your time with each breath.
Grab a drinking straw for this exercise.
- Inhale normally and naturally.
- Exhale fully through a plastic drinking straw – make sure you have exhaled all of the air out of your lungs. The first time, you may feel silly and start laughing. That’s good too!
- Inhale normally (not through the straw).
- Exhale fully out of the straw.
- Repeat this exercise for 5 minutes.
*No straw? Position lips when you breathe out as if you had a straw.
You can do this exercise either sitting or lying down.
- To start, put one hand on your belly and the other on your chest as in the belly breathing exercise.
- Take a deep, slow breath from your belly, and silently count to 4 as you breathe in.
- Hold your breath, and silently count from 1 to 7.
- Breathe out completely as you silently count from 1 to 8. Try to get all the air out of your lungs by the time you count to 8.
- Repeat 3 to 7 times or until you feel calm.
Notice how you feel at the end of each exercise, take a few minutes before going back to the activity that caused anxiety.
Take 10: Deep breathe with Stacy Schuerman, E-RYT 500 & Certified Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra Meditation Guide, & the Co-Owner of SunSpark Yoga Studio in Old Towne Orange.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 18% of the population. Anxiety is highly treatable, yet only about 1/3 of those suffering receive treatment. If you are ready to receive help in lessening your anxiety so you can live with more confidence, connection and purpose, call or email me to schedule a consultation.
Kate Murphy, LCSW
Kate Murphy, a therapist in Chamblee, GA, specializes in helping you decrease stress and anxiety. You can live a more balanced, connected, and meaningful life. Kate works with individuals and couples over the age of 18 to support healing, communicating, and experiencing joy more often.