(to encourage calm)

If you are struggling with anxiety, try not to feel helpless, there are plenty of things you can do to help yourself. Anxiety might be uncomfortable and upsetting but it isn’t dangerous.

You’d think that breathing is one of the most natural processes known to us humans. Let’s face it, we’ve been breathing since the day we were born. It’s amazing then to discover that at times we might be breathing in an unhelpful way.

People with anxiety tend to be shallow, chest breathers…

This is because they produce more adrenaline which triggers a fight/flight/freeze response. This in turn increases the heart rate and causes quicker, more shallow breaths (hyperventilation). In a nutshell, they breathe in carbon dioxide too quickly compared to the oxygen they breathe out. This NHS guide can explain this in more depth.

Shallow breathing = tension!

We’ve all experienced some tension in the neck, shoulders and chest when we’ve felt stressed. Shallow chest breathing promotes this…it’s a vicious cycle: we feel emotionally tense and stressed and this leads to our bodies becoming tense and stressed.

Breathing technique to reduce anxiety…

There’s no simpler way to promote relaxation than starting with your breath.

Top tip – watch a sleeping baby. Notice how their stomachs rise and fall. This is diaphragmatic breathing. We all used to do it, but somehow we develop new habits over time.

Belly-breathing baby!

Take a few minutes to practise your belly-breathing. Sit in a chair or lie down. Take slightly slower breaths than usual and try to breathe both in and out through your nose. What you’re aiming for is to get your stomach to push out on the in breath and drop again on the out breath (careful you don’t over exert yourself or you’ll start to feel light-headed).

Gently place your hand on your stomach if this helps you to notice the motion as it rises up and down. You can work on your own rhythm but an easy one is box’ or ‘square’ breathing

One example is inhale for 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4 and wait for 4 (hence the square). A bit of experimentation and you can work out how many counts suit you best.

Meditation

Mindful meditation will allow you time to encourage some calm and to practise sitting with your thoughts, whilst not having to do anything with them. There are so many apps to support people with their meditation and regular practice will help reduce anxiety.

Yoga

Yoga is as old as the hills and has so many physical and mental health benefits. Some people are put off by the thought of having to practise in front of others but yoga can pretty much be practised anywhere and certainly on your own or with the help of a guided yoga app. I use Meditation Live (you have to pay a subscription) or there are plenty of free apps, such as Yoga for Beginners.

Relax those muscles!

This one’s simple but can feel a little strange to begin with. Progressive Muscle Relaxation  will help release tension in the muscles and encourage a sense of relaxation. This one is best practised daily so you get the hang of it. Daily practice of any relaxation technique will build resilience to stress and help reduce overall anxiety levels.


Absorb yourself in a calming activity…

If your anxiety has got to the point where you’re experiencing panic attacks then that’s the time to seek help from your GP or a CBT therapist.