Anxiety is normal when we are faced with stressful circumstances and are not sure what to expect. “What if” questions are the hallmark of the anxious mind. What if I get the Coronavirus? What if our loved ones become ill? What if I can’t work and lose my income? What if the economy crashes? What if we run out of food and supplies? When our minds are consumed with anxious thoughts, we begin to experience symptoms in our bodies such as muscle tension, headaches, gastrointestinal distress, and a racing heart. Our anxiety can make us feel irritable, disoriented, fatigued, hyper-sensitive, and often helpless or powerless. With these growing discomforts, we tend to turn towards focusing on what is going on around us- a lot of which is out of our control. When we do this, negative discomforts rise and we feel increasingly powerless. It is important to identify what control we do have in any situation. Focusing on this allows us to gain routine, balance, and peace back into our lives. YOU DO HAVE CONTROL and you can ease your anxiety by using some of these relaxation strategies…
Breathe. When we are stressed and anxious, we tend to hold our breath or take very shallow breaths. Breathing slowly and deeply in a rhythmic manner calms our body and mind by signaling the brain that we are safe. This type of breathing, called controlled breathing, has been shown to help our bodies adapt to stress. Breathing switches off the fight, flight, or freeze response of our sympathetic nervous system and activates our parasympathetic nervous system so that we can feel calm and connected.
Try these types of breathing to see which one works best for you…
Four Square Breathing: Inhale to the count of 4. Hold your breath to the count of 4. Exhale to the count of 4. Repeat 4 times.
Diaphragmatic Breathing: Place one hand on your belly and the other hand over your heart. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. You will notice your belly extend as the air flows down into your lungs. Then exhale slowly and completely through your mouth. Repeat this process at a pace that is comfortable. The goal is to repeat 6 to 10 times per minute for approximately 10 minutes.
Nadi Shodhana or Alternate Nostril Breathing: This type of breathing is practiced often in yoga. It serves to calm the body and unite both hemispheres of the brain.
Sit comfortably, legs crossed in a meditative posture. Hold your right thumb over your right nostril and inhale deeply through your left nostril. At the top of your inhalation, close off your left nostril with your ring finger, then exhale completely through your right nostril. Follow this pattern, inhaling through your right nostril, closing it off with your right thumb and exhaling through your left nostril. (Blowing your nose to clear your nasal passages prior to this technique is recommended!)
Progressive Muscle Relaxation: This practice facilitates relaxation by systematically tensing and relaxing each muscle group. Sit or lie comfortably. Begin with your feet and work your way up through your body from feet to ankles, legs, buttocks, stomach, chest, hands, arms, shoulders, neck, jaw, face, eyes, top of the head. Tense each muscle group for 5 counts and release. Notice the difference in your body sensations when your muscles are tense versus when you release. Pairing your breathing with your muscle tension and release process allows you to establish a rhythm and induces a deeper relaxation experience. For example, inhaling as you tense your muscles for 5 counts and exhaling as your release for 5 counts. You can experiment with the number of counts that works for you. You can also start from your head and work your way down to your feet. (A helpful way to explain this to children is to phrase it as flexing or squeezing your muscles and then relaxing them)
Visualization: The practice of visualization is a powerful way to calm your mind and shift the physiological stress response happening in your body. Our brains do not distinguish real from perceived experiences when responding. Therefore, imagining in detail your being in a warm, sunny, safe place will have the same relaxing effect on your body as if you were actually there (without worrying about sunburn!). Similarly, imagining holding a lemon, cutting it open, and biting into this sour fruit will induce the production of saliva from your salivatory glands even when you are not actually eating a lemon slice.
Practice spending 10-15 minutes visualizing a real or imagined place that is calm, peaceful, or beautiful. Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Visualize being in that special place and opening all of your senses. Notice the details of what you see-what surrounds you. What objects do you see? What colors fill this space? Are there people there or are you alone? Notice what sounds you hear. Do you hear the sounds of nature, a loved one’s voice, soothing music? Notice what you feel physically and emotionally? Do you feel safe, calm, content, happy? Do you feel soft sand or the cool grassy earth on the bottoms of your feet? Do you feel the warmth of the sun on your face or a gentle breeze brush against your face? Notice what you smell. Do you smell the fragrance of blooming flowers or the earthy scent of the woods? Maybe you smell the scent of someone you love or the delightful aroma of your favorite food. Notice what you taste. Do you taste the salt in the air from the ocean? Do you taste the sweetness of a crisp juicy apple picked right off the tree? Do you taste the richness and deliciousness of a piece of dark chocolate? Now finally, shift your attention to what you intuitively know in this place you are visualizing. Do you know you are loved? Do you know you are wise, strong, capable? Do you know what you want and what you need? Allow yourself to be in this place until you are ready to come back. Know that you can always visit this place when you want to feel a sense of peace and relaxation just by going there in your mind!