Just Breathe

I feel compelled to write another article about anxiety... it seems to be in full bloom right now! I have seen both adults and children struggling stay above water in what feels like a sea of fear. If I can give you any advice, it is this: BREATHE.

I know it’s simple, and it doesn’t solve anything. Do it anyway. There is a cycle of anxiety that involves the mind and body. It can look like this: I wake up and notice that my heart is beating faster, and then I feel a tightness in my chest. I’m worried that there’s something wrong – what could it be? My brain quickly flies through all the possible options, none of which are encouraging. Now my breaths are coming fast and short, and I’m feeling dizzy. I was right – there is something wrong! Or maybe not…

Can you see the cycle? The body was anxious, so the mind followed, which lead to a more anxious body, which lead to scarier thoughts… round and round it goes! The key is to interrupt the cycle.

The easiest way to do this is by breathing. Taking slow, deep, measured breaths signals to your body that all is well. It forces the body to slow down – breath rate and heart rate will ease up. Even if the mind is having a tough time disengaging from anxious thoughts, the body can return to its safe zone. When the body is peaceful, it’s easier to manage those pesky thoughts.

Practice breathing every morning and every night. I like to do a 5 count inhale, hold, and exhale – repeat pattern. But do whatever works for you! Once you’re breathing regularly in the morning and before bed, begin practicing at meal times. Just like any skill we want to learn, we have to practice to be good at it. If we want to be able to calm ourselves when we’re afraid, we have to practice calming ourselves when we aren’t afraid.

As you breathe deeply, you may notice your heart beat. This can alarm some people at first, but it’s ok – there’s nothing wrong. I like to notice the heart rate slowing after a few breaths. I think that steady beat can be a good reminder of how the body is working together to keep me safe and to let me do amazing things. A heartbeat can foster gratitude or awe or curiosity – none of which are frightening and all will aid the calming process.

I challenge you to practice breathing for one whole month and see what difference it makes for you. I said at the beginning that breathing doesn’t solve anything – it’s true, it doesn’t. But breathing is always good. Even if we feel like it’s not changing things as quickly as we’d like, it’s still good for our bodies to have a small break here and there. Don’t underestimate the power of a small change.

That’s another nice thing about breathing – it’s something you can control. In a very fast world where expectations abound with our ability to meet them not always fully within our grasp, we can still breathe. So try it – right now…

Inhale (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Hold (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Exhale (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

Let me know if you have questions about how to manage anxiety. My colleagues and I are here to help!