In my last blog I talked about taking control of anxious, emotional thinking and that the first step in training your mind to work better for you in anxious situations is to take a step back – recognise a thought driven by strong emotions and allow your mind time to calm and get some perspective. A quick and easy way to help you begin this process is to shift your awareness to your own breathing. Did you know that breathing plays an essential role in anxiety? When you are anxious, your breathing rate becomes elevated, and a number of physiological changes begin to occur. The way you breathe is a major factor in producing these and other sensations that happen when you are anxious.
You probably remember learning that you breathe in oxygen and you breathe out carbon dioxide. To run efficiently, your body needs the correct balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide, and this balance is maintained by how fast and how deeply you breathe. When you exercise, there is an increase in both oxygen and carbon dioxide. When you are relaxed there is a decrease in both oxygen and carbon dioxide. In both cases the balance is maintained. When you are anxious, this balance is disrupted as you breathe too quickly and take in more oxygen than your body needs. Your body responds with a number of chemical changes that produce the symptoms I talked about in an earlier blog such as dizziness, blurred vision, feeling light-headed, confused or breathless, an increase in heart rate to pump more blood around, numbness and tingling in your extremities, cold clammy hands and muscle stiffness.
A Calming Technique
In order to gain control and get your system back in balance you need to slow your rate of breathing and change your breathing style. Slower, deeper breathing stimulates the part of your nervous system responsible for relaxation. This is a basic biological process and if you breathe in this way then your body will have no choice but to relax. It may take a few minutes but the body will respond regardless of what your mind is thinking.
Experience this now. Find a place where you will be undisturbed for a few minutes. You can close your eyes or keep them open, whatever is comfortable for you. Sit with your feet flat on the floor and your hands resting lightly in your lap.
• Breathe in deeply (from your diaphragm) to the count of 4 seconds (through the nose if possible)
• Hold your breath for 2 seconds
• Release the breath taking 6 seconds (through the nose if possible) then pause slightly before breathing in again
• Just allow the oxygen to gently and slowly flow in and flow out.
• Practice breathing this way as often as you can
The counts are less important than remembering to lengthen your out breath. This is what sends the calming signal to your mind and body. You may have seen similar breathing exercises elsewhere, such as 7-11 breathing where you breathe in for a count of 7 and out for a count of 11.
When you are doing your breathing exercises, make sure that you are using a diaphragmatic breathing style rather than a chest breathing style. You can check this by placing one hand on your diaphragm under your rib-cage. The hand on your diaphragm should rise when you breathe in.
When you first begin changing your breathing, it may be difficult to slow your breathing down and you might feel like it is not worth the effort, or think it is not working and give up. Notice that this is your unhelpful anxiety talking, so challenge those assumptions and persevere. Allowing yourself to breathe like this regularly forces your general anxiety level to come down. With enough practice you will find that you begin to breathe this way automatically if you feel anxious. Regular periods of relaxation inhibit the production of stress hormones in the body so it actually becomes harder and harder to panic. As you become more generally relaxed the ‘baseline’ of arousal from which you are starting lowers and it actually becomes harder to get stressed.
Once you are comfortable with this breathing technique you can add the following:
• As you breathe in, imagine that the air around you is a wonderful colour of calm and relaxation. As you breathe in allow the colour to flow in and through your body like a wave of calm, clearing any tension in your body or stresses in your mind
• As you breathe out, imagine any tension or stress flowing out and away from you and disappearing into the air where it evaporates and disappears
#Mindfulness relaxation – it only takes a minute every day
This technique is simple yet very effective. Take a moment to practice it every day. Find a comfortable place to sit. It can be on a chair or on the floor, but don’t slump or slouch. Keep your posture straight but relaxed, making sure you are not rigid or stiff.
• Close your eyes and focus your awareness on your body and become aware of any and all sensations there
• Now focus your attention like a spotlight on any particular tightness or discomfort anywhere in the body. If there are none then just focus on the stillness in the body. You are not trying to judge any sensations or change them, but simply to become aware of them. If your mind wanders then gently escort it back to focusing on your breathing
• You may find that any areas of tension begin to loosen and relax. You don’t need to try to do this, just be aware of any relaxation happening. You can stay like this for as long as you wish but even a minute is beneficial
Please give these techniques a try – all you have to lose are your feelings of anxiety! I specialize in helping people overcome anxiety and I work in #York. I can be reached via my website at: http://www.mindmakeoveruk.com/contact.html
In my final blog of this 8 part series on #anxiety, you can read about lifestyle changes that can help improve overall mood and wellbeing.