Have you ever been so stressed out that you almost forgot to breathe? Instead you are breathing like you are out of breath from running a race.
When we get uptight, we speed ourselves up. Alarms go off in our body because our mind is telling the body there is danger. Just like we speed up our body, we can also slow it down when the fear isn’t useful. One of the ways to calm anxiety is to remember to breathe.
Obviously breathing is automatic, but so is rapid breathing when you perceive a threat. If there is real danger, it would be useful to speed up. But when there is no danger, being sped up makes you feel worse.
“Fear is not real. It is a product of thoughts you create. Do not misunderstand me. Danger is very real. But Fear is a choice.” Will Smith, After Earth
Anxiety is a fear fantasy we create by distorting reality with our own perceptions. While our perceptions may be half true, they are a distortion. Anxiety only focuses on the negative and narrow view points.
Imagine how you would feel when you tell yourself these fears:
I’m not good enough.
I’m the only one that can do it right.
No one chooses me.
Everyone leaves me.
People only like me for what I can do for them.
Everyone lets me down.
I will never find someone to love me.
Something’s really wrong with me.
I can’t live without him/her.
Your anxiety triggers the alarm, and you start protecting yourself from perceived danger. You may withdraw, lash out, overwork, become a victim, or focus on someone else as the problem. So anxiety not only impacts how we feel physically, but also plays out in our relationships with others.
The good news is you can develop new pathways in your brain. You can start taking breathing breaks to over-ride the anxiety alarms. With repetition, you will boost your brains fear over-riding power as well as your confidence.
Here are some ideas for practicing breathing exercises:
Sit or lie in a comfortable position
Close your eyes
Focus on how your breath feels to move in and out
Inhale through your nose
Exhale through your mouth
Allow your exhales to be longer than your inhales
Pause gently between breaths
Let your stomach rise and fall slowly
Feel yourself sinking and relaxing
Let the simple and powerful rhythms of your breathing calm you down. You can’t be anxious when you are sending signals to your body to relax. Let your breathing lower the alarms going off in your body and your mind will follow.
While the goal isn’t to eliminate all anxiety, it is calming to find ways to interrupt the anxiety already in progress. You can’t overdose on deep gentle breathing, so repeat these breathing breaks as needed.
How do you over-ride your anxiety alarms?
Marci Payne, resident of Lees Summit, is an Individual, Marriage, and Family Counselor at http://www.marcipayne.com