Harness the breath to your advantage: meditation and deep breathing techniques to help you conquer your feelings of stress and anxiety.
Stress and anxiety are issues which many adults regularly experience, but there are things you can do to minimize their impact on your life.
The multiple demands of the modern world require us to be connected 24/7, multitasking and maintaining a perfect image. This can be overwhelming, so you are not alone if you feel stressed and anxious. Although we can’t eliminate all the anxiety factors, knowing our triggers and how to cope with them can improve our overall well-being. There are some easy mechanisms that, if you master them, will help you reduce the anxiety symptoms as you learn now how to surf the wave of anxiety, reaching the beach still alive.
One day I was at the cinema watching a scene from Lars Von Trier’s film, The House That Jack Built, of a serial killer choking an old lady. What came next was pretty dramatic (and maybe a little bit poetic).
Suffering from anxiety, I had been feeling a lump in my throat for a while. Watching that scene got the lump worse, making me feel like I couldn’t breathe.
I panicked when I realized that I was about to panic (that’s how panic attacks works).
I was breathless and faint, having to leave the cinema. When I passed through the door, I vomited. The choking of the old lady triggered me to the point that I realized I had something to heal.
I began to meditate, trying to get the lump out of me when I felt a pop in my chest releasing a lot of tension. The pop relaxed my diaphragm and made me breathe deeper than ever. It made me understand that I was not breathing properly, something that had been happening even before the attack. When I was meditating, not only my lungs but my entire body were breathing and being nourished again, with the oxygen flowing through my veins.
We get used to breathing shallow and fast, activating the fight-or-flight response. It tells our body that we are in danger and can’t relax. By breathing fast or experiencing uncomfortable feelings such as anger or sadness, we contract our muscles, resulting in back, neck, and chest pain. We release stress hormones even when we are not in a stressful situation.
It’s important to pay attention to your breathing patterns. If you feel stressed and anxious, you are probably experiencing breathlessness or hyperventilation.
But by practicing deep breathing and other techniques, you will help reduce the anxiety symptoms while clearing your mind to respond properly to the events.
When we are about to panic, our interpretation of the anxiety symptoms (heart race, fast breath, the sweat and so on) makes us feel more anxious since we are afraid of what might happen because of it.
But if you know your triggers, you can control your breathing before the anxiety escalates to attack.
You don’t want to learn how to survive an earthquake during the earthquake; you want to practice so you can do it naturally when the time comes. Anxiety is the same; you need to practice daily to know how to respond when the wave hits you.
How Deep Breathing Helps You
It seems counterintuitive to focus on your breath when you are hyperventilating or breathless, but with practice, it will come naturally and easily. That way, you will reduce the anxiety symptoms and the probability of a crisis.
Deep breathing comes from the diaphragm or the stomach area. When you are stressed, you will usually chest breath, breathing with the upper section of the lungs or chest. This breath stresses the body, making it tense.
If you take a look at a newborn baby as they sleep, you will see the way their whole body is breathing and how their breathing is connected. Their back, tummy, and chest move together with no blockages. The breath moves constantly like an ocean wave ebbing and flowing. That’s how one should practice breathing.
Meditating can be your main ally in developing diaphragmatic breathing by helping you:
- reduce blood pressure
- lower the heart rate
- release muscle tension
- relieve negative thought patterns
- alleviate pains such as chest, back and neck pain
- elevate the levels of serotonin and endorphins
- shut down the fight-or-flight response
- reduce anxiety symptoms
How to Practice Meditation
Find a quiet place where you can sit or lie. Then close your eyes and inhale counting to six. Hold your breath for three seconds and exhale counting to eight. If this pace seems too strenuous on the lungs, drop a second from each section. Practice for at least five minutes.
The exhale is just as important as the inhale. You need to fully empty your lungs and open space for the fresh air. You can focus on your breathing and do this technique anytime you want, even when not meditating.
The more you do it, the more you have control of your state.
Think of anxiety as a wave. You need to breathe into it and it will eventually go away. When you master deep breathing, you can focus on it anytime you feel you are losing control of your emotions, rather in a stressful situation or in a panic/anxiety attack.
If your anxiety is heightened due to disorders such as panic attacks and generalized anxiety, it’s important to challenge your automatic thoughts. What do you think will happen as an effect of the symptoms? Do you think that you are going to die? If you think that you will have a heart attack, for example, you can see a doctor so that when the next wave of panic hits, you will remember that you checked your heart and you are just fine.
If your anxiety feels out of control and is affecting your daily life, it’s time to contact a mental health professional to help you cope with anxiety on a long-term basis.
You cannot take the anxiety factors away, but you can learn how to surf them.
You may also enjoy reading Chronic Stress: The Silent Hormone (and Life) Hijacker, by Dr. Stephanie Gray