Nanette Thomas Shepardson, M.A., LPC, CADC
Licensed Professional Counselor
Has anyone ever made the above suggestion when you felt anxious, “out of control,” or angry? Did you find the suggestion helpful or comforting? Or did you become more anxious, less in control, and angrier than ever?
Be comforted if you find yourself “triggered” into less than-desirable feelings and behaviors due to the “just breathe” recommendation, as many of us do. Here are some things we can do to help us resume our standard breathing patterns when feeling anxious.
Reconnect and ground yourself to the earth. Find a spot on the ground to stand steady. Slowly stand up on your toes, and then rock onto your heels. Try rocking from heel to toe a few times, getting into a rhythm. Next, stand high on your tippy toes and let yourself fall onto your heels. Take some time to sense how you feel. This exercise can help us connect to the ground beneath us and the here and now.
Tense and relax different parts of your body. For example, sit upright in a chair and press your feet to the ground as firmly as possible for a few seconds. Release the pressure and notice how your feet feel now. You can also squeeze the arms of your chair as tightly as you can and then slowly relax and let go.
Hug yourself. To do this, cross your right arm over your chest, placing your hand near your heart. Then, cross your left arm, placing your left hand on your right shoulder. This posture can make you feel contained, which may make you feel safe. Hold the hug for as long as you need.
Now, let’s breathe with a twist. Take a deep inhale. When you exhale, use your mouth to make the sound “shhhh,” as if telling someone to quiet down. Notice the area between your chest and your belly. This “shhhh” sound helps open the diaphragm and releases tension, panic, or anxiety “stuck” in our bodies. This exercise helps move us from feeling stuck and frozen to feeling open and flexible.
Now, take another breath. On the exhale, make a humming sound, “mmmm.” As you do this, ensure your lips are closed tightly so the exhale makes a vibration you can sense in your throat and head. Do this a few times, and pay attention to the movement, sensations, and vibration in your neck, throat, and head. Doing this helps an overactive nervous system slowly relax and find calm again.