Breathing techniques help some with feelings of anxiety
Anxiety is part of the human condition. There’s not a person alive who hasn’t experienced it. Anxiety includes feelings of nervousness, fear, and dread. Physical symptoms include lightheadedness, trembling, sweating, racing pulse, and difficult breathing.
Anxiety is generally episodic. You might become anxious before a speech or a test or get triggered by something specific. This form of stress can lead to a full-blown panic attack; that’s why it’s important to try to manage your anxiety as soon as it starts.
Here are three easy to remember techniques you can try next time you feel anxious. They can be easily done, whether you’re at home, at work, on a plane, or anywhere anxiety strikes.
If it’s hard to catch your breath or your heart is racing, square breathing can help you lower your heart rate and return to your normal breathing patterns. It's great for all situations that may make you anxious, like public speaking, work conflicts, or having difficult conversations. Here's what to do:
- Sit up straight and lengthen your spine, lining your neck up with your spine by gently moving your head back.
- Close your eyes, or soften your gaze like you do when you're staring off into space.
- Blow all the air out of your lungs in a big exhale, as if you are blowing out birthday candles.
- Inhale slowly for the count of four.
- Hold your breath for the count of four.
- Exhale slowly for the count of four.
- Hold your breath again for the count of four.
- Try to make each count be equal length: 1...2...3...4.
Repeat until you feel calmer, at least four to ten times. If you lose your place, re-straighten your spine, bring your attention back to your breath, and start over.
The 5–4–3–2–1 Technique
Use this technique to ground yourself and focus your racing mind on something concrete. This can be particularly helpful if you are feeling a panic attack come on, or you feel like you're dizzy or about to cry.
- Take one to three slow, deep breaths. Don't force them, try to make them easy breaths. Count them out if you need to, so that all the breaths are equal length.
- Look around and identify five things you see around you. For example, a chair, a picture on the wall, or the light fixture. Keep your attention on each item for a couple of breaths. Stare at it carefully like you're trying to memorize what it looks like.
- Identify four things you can touch and use your fingers to create a tactile connection with the objects for a couple of breaths . Some examples may be your hair, your thigh, or the arm of your chair.
- Identify three things you hear around you. Focus on the sounds for a few seconds carefully, with a level of attention like the way you would if you were trying to hear something in a loud room. Some examples might be the sound of the furnace, traffic outside, someone speaking, or the plane engine.
- Identify two things you can smell around you, like your shampoo, coffee brewing, or a flower.
- Identify one thing you taste in your mouth, like the garlic you had at lunch or your toothpaste.
- End with five slow, deep breaths.
- Repeat as needed.
This tactic can be particularly effective if you feel like your muscles are tense or you're having physical symptoms associated with your anxiety.
- Starting with your feet, inhale and clench the muscles in your feet and toes tightly and hold for a few seconds.
- Exhale and slowly relax those muscles.
- Repeat the exercise, moving up through the calves, thighs, hips/glutes, back, stomach, chest, shoulders, arms, hands/fingers, neck, and face.
- Choose smaller body parts as you move through, for example, instead of doing your entire torso, do your back, your sides, your stomach, and your hips separately.
- End by inhaling and simultaneously clenching all the muscles in the body, hold for 5–10 seconds, then exhale and slowly relax them.
If you feel like your anxiety is become more frequent or it's not responding to any of these exercises, consult with your doctor or mental health professional.
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