We all feel overwhelmed by the events of life at times. The heavy weight in your stomach and uncontrollable, worrisome thoughts are sensations most of us have experienced. For me, anxiety is a normal part of my daily existence and identifying the symptoms and managing them is crucial. Taking charge of your mental health is the only way of getting back to a state of wellbeing, denying it control over your life and your decisions.
There are many tools and techniques that can aid in calming an anxious mind and today I would like to talk you through a couple that have truly helped me grapple with my nagging anxiety, increasing a sense of inner balance and calm.
Now, taking in a couple of breaths isn’t going to magically change your life but in times of stress, slowing down your breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the opposite of the flight or fight response (sympathetic nervous system). As both cannot function simultaneously, controlling your breathing essentially overrides our stress response.
INHALE AND EXHALE
A technique I learned as a result of some Tai Chi classes, is the focus on the depth of your breathing. As most of our daily breathing is quite shallow, we do not often use our lungs to their full capacity. This approach involves inhaling a deep belly breath until you feel like no more air can fit, then inhaling one further gulp of air, followed by a very deep exhale and when all the air feels like it has been released use your core to push out one extra puff of air. This will help slow down your breathing, while expanding the lungs and clearing out stale air from deeper inside the lungs.
THE SIX SECOND RULE
In order to achieve slow breathing, you want to aim at your inhales lasting six seconds and your exhales also lasting six seconds. You should aim to maintain this pace for around three minutes.
Meditation is a fantastic practice to train attention and awareness, achieve a mentally clear, emotionally calm and stable state. An amazing approach that everyone can benefit from, whether anxiety is something you struggle with or not. The amazing thing about meditation is that it is a preventative measure as well as a tool for relief. With consistent practice meditation will improve levels of overall anxiety and can even improve the dissociative effects of trauma.
If you choose to start off with meditation, be patient with yourself. A lot of what is required will be very difficult to achieve, especially when first starting out. Clearing your mind and getting in touch with your physical and mental sensations is part of the process.
Meditation requires practice and dedication. Headspace is a great tool to guide you through sessions, starting off as very approachable for someone without any experience meditating and developing into more targeted sessions as you work through the content. The app has a few beginner levels available for free, however access to the full app does require a subscription.
You can also access an array of sessions on Youtube and Spotify. Simply search guided meditation on either platform.
SOMETHING I ENJOY
A good way to improve my state of mind when anxiety sets in is doing something I enjoy doing. Something creative and tangible with an end result. Drawing, painting, knitting or any other creative activity will help ease stress, as increasing targeted focus on an activity will engage the frontal cortex, also enabling the release and expression of feelings, with the added bonus of a dopamine rush when you complete the task successfully.
Let me know how you’re coping with the current events, if any of these practices help you manage your mental wellbeing and if you have any other suggestions that work for you!