Written by Katie McLaughlin, LPC, CCATP
When it comes to managing anxiety, we have a few options to consider. There are some practices that fall into a prevention category and others which fall into an intervention category. Prevention includes regular practices, techniques or activities which set yourself up for an overall decrease of anxiety and stress. Intervention, on the other hand, involves techniques to engage in when you are in throws of anxiety or panic.
Prevention would be things like maintaining a regular sleep schedule, engaging in a daily meditation, exercising, practicing yoga throughout your week, ensuring you are eating well, using a diffuser with essential oils while you work, and maybe going easy on your caffeine intake.
Intervention would include specific breathing techniques, grounding techniques or general self care that you practice when you notice those uncomfortable warning signs of anxiety. Sometimes, the best thing we can do when we are in anxiety-mode, is to physically get the cortisol-induced energy out. Cardio or interval training is actually great for this. Obviously, it is not always realistic (or healthy) to start sprinting every time we feel anxious, but when our body says to move, it's usually a good idea to listen.
Grounding techniques and breathing techniques can be somewhat interchangeable. We don't need a hundred different options to choose from. We just need a few, easy to remember and simple to practice options to get our body's calming system to turn on. One of these techniques is called Box Breathing. This technique is so effective, it is taught to and used by Navy Seals! Also, since it is a breath-based technique, you can quite literally practice it anywhere. Check out the graphic below to practice in your own time. The premise is as follows:
Breathe in while you count to 4
Hold your breath while you count to 4
Breathe out while you count to 4
Hold your breath while you count to 4
Image found on Science of Connectedness
Try this out for 5-10 breath cycles and see what you notice. If you find yourself becoming lightheaded during the practice, take a few normal breaths and resume when you feel ready to.
If you are more of an active learner and would rather get the feel for this practice in meditation form, check out my latest podcast. You can find additional meditations and mindfulness practices there as well, with new practices uploaded weekly.
If you'd like to be guided through this practice, check out my podcast on Spotify.
There really is such power in our breath. Simply practicing how to get fuller, deeper, more satisfying breaths has a great impact on the stress we feel.
Often times where we are overwhelmed with stress or anxiety, we tend to experience shallow, unfulfilling breathing which leaves us...well...breathless. Which of course only exasperates the problem as we then tend to think we are dying or are having a heart attack. (Hey panic)
The good news is that there are so many different ways to regain control of your breathing, therefore increasing feeling calm and grounded. One of the options you have is to practice something called Belly Breathing. Basically this is simply a practice of sending your breath all the way down to your lower abdomen, rather than breathing solely into your chest.
If you've never tried this before, I encourage you to experiment with your breath by placing one hand on your heart and one on your belly. As you inhale, notice which hands moves more. Is it the hand placed over your heart or the one on your belly?
Try a few breaths as you imagine sending breath to your lower abdomen as you inhale.
When you practice this way, notice your belly-placed hand rise as you inhale and lower as you exhale. Observe how your chest and shoulders stay relatively still when the breath travels to your belly and fills your lungs more deeply. Observe the fullness of breath you can have when you intentionally focus on how you breathe. Allow yourself to be kind and gentle with yourself, especially if you are new to this practice. As with most things in life, it will take practice and repetition to feel comfortable with a new skill.
Bonus - If you practice breathing techniques like this when you are not feeling overly stressed or anxious, your mind and body tend to remember how it felt during the practice and will therefore have an easier time thinking to use this as a way to calm down when you actually are feeling stress or anxiety. Not to mention, this type of practice leads to feeling relaxed as you practice it because it activates your body's amazing calming system. Pretty cool right?
You can check in for weekly guided meditations and other mindfulness practices here and on my podcast, Mindful Moments. Listen on AnchorFM or Spotify.
Katie McLaughlin, LPC