By Marsha Ferrick Heiden, Ph.D.
“Anxiety is the rust of life, destroying its brightness and weakening its power.” (Unknown)
You can reduce your anxiety anywhere at anytime through this simple method of breathing. The reason it works is that it manages you anxiety at a physiological level. The simple truth is that when we get anxious we hold our breath. Our bodies then start to panic because we are not breathing and that further increases are anxiety because our brain is saying, “Oh my I cannot breathe! Help!” and our anxiety increases further.
Learning to manage your breathing can significantly reduce your anxiety through the mastery of the simple breathing technique below. The main purpose is to slow your breathing and heart rate which decreases the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream which prevents hyperventilation. Subsequently your blood pressure and muscle tension will decrease with an increased ease and calmness in your mind and body. With practice, this breathing technique will let you decrease anxiety anywhere at anytime without anyone ever having to know you are doing it.
I recommend practicing this exercise several times a day so that it becomes habitual. Giving yourself a physical cue may help initiate the breathing response more quickly when you are in severe distress. For example, forming an “OK” symbol with your thumb and pointer finger or laying two fingers across the inside of your wrist. Something simple, easy to do, and not obvious to others will be the most help.
1. Take a normal breath in through your nose with your mouth closed.
2. Exhale slowly with your mouth closed.
3. On exhaling, say the word “calm” or “relax” very slowly-for example, “c-a-a-a-l-l-l-m-m-m” or “r-e-e-e-l-l-l-a-a-a-x.”
4. Count slowly to 4 and then take the next normal inhalation.
5. Practice this exercise several times a day, taking 10 to 15 breaths at each practice.
You can use this method when you find yourself in any number of anxiety provoking situations. Do you ever find yourself… Taking an exam! Arguing with your partner! Being given a hard time by your boss! Listening to your children fighting! With way too much going on around you! Running late! Under pressure at work! With too much to do and not enough time to do it! In the slowest grocery line ever! Unable to sit still! Catastrophizing again! Wanting to cry! If so join the crowd and remember that you can relax by simply mastering the simple art of breathing!
“When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace.” (Unknown)
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