It’s not easy living with an anxiety disorder. Fighting the constant stream of doubt, paranoia, and anguish is irritating on the best days, and utterly exhausting on the worst. There have been more than a few times I was tempted to drown my anxiety with alcohol, but I knew that would only make things worse.
You see, even with medication and therapy, the anxiety is always there. It’s definitely quieter than it was before, but it’s still there — and sometimes, it overwhelms me.Though my doctor prescribed Xanax, I’ve been hesitant to take it. Benzodiazepines can be dangerous when combined with other medications (some of which I take), and have been known to be addictive.
Luckily, I’ve learned a few tricks for quieting my anxiety that don’t involve booze or dangerous drugs.
It seems so cliché, doesn’t it? The whole, “just breathe” mantra seems like it’s been beaten to death. There’s a reason for that, though — it works.
When we’re anxious, our sympathetic nervous system kicks into full gear. It triggers the body’s fight-or-flight response, which does a number of things at the same time:
- The body experiences a sudden burst of energy, which is meant to help respond to the perceived danger
- Breathing becomes shallow and rapid
- Hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) flood into the bloodstream, increasing blood pressure and pulse rate, and keeping the body at a state of high alert.
Deep breathing works to reverse these symptoms instantly by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve (the main nerve in the parasympathetic nervous system), slowing heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and calming the body and mind.
Here are three great breathing techniques from Anxiety Slayer — give them a try!
3 Anxiety Breathing Techniques You Can Practice Anywhere!
- The Measured Breath
- Breath in slowly through your nose and count to four. Keep your shoulders down and allow your stomach to expand as you breathe in. Hold and breath for a moment. Now release your breath slowly and smoothly as you count to seven.
- The Bumble Bee Breath
- Close your throat slightly so you can hear your breath when you breathe in. Cover your ears with your thumbs and your eyes with your fingers. Keep your lips closed lightly and your teeth slightly apart with your jaw relaxed. Breathe out slowly making a low humming sound. Make your exhalation long and smooth.
- Belly Breathing
- Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose. Your stomach should expand. Exhale slowly through your mouth. As you blow air out, purse your lips slightly, and keep your jaw and tongue relaxed. You may hear a soft “whooshing” sound as you exhale.
I’ve always struggled with traditional meditation. The stillness itself makes me anxious and my body starts screaming to move. That’s where mindfulness comes in — it’s one of the simplest forms of meditation, and can be done (almost) anywhere during any activity. At its heart, mindfulness is about maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. It also involves paying attention to thoughts and feelings without judging them (i.e. believing that there’s a right or wrong way to feel.)
I practice mindfulness while preparing meals, putting on my makeup, crafting, or working at my hobbies. I carefully focus on each movement, what I feel, hear, smell, and taste. Often times, I’ll find myself breathing deeply without having to put effort into it. I let thoughts and feelings flow, and I don’t attempt to corral them or examine them any deeper than I feel necessary. It’s unbelievably relaxing.
New to mindfulness? Try a guided exercise to get you started!
Read a Novel
A little bit of escapism can do a world of good! I’ve been reading voraciously since I first learned how, and it never fails to reduce my anxiety. A well written novel has the ability to transport me to amazing worlds and put me in the shoes of another person. I’ve long held that reading was a great way to squash anxious thoughts, but recently, a group of scientists put money where my mouth was.
A study from Emory University has shown that reading a novel not only enhances connectivity in the brain, it also improves brain function. Professor Gregory Berns, explains, “The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist. We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”
What’s more, these neural changes weren’t just immediate reactions. They persisted for five days after participants completed the novel. That means you can reap the benefits of reading your favorite books for days!
I’m no expert on anxiety. I know how my mind works, and what calms it when I’m overwhelmed. I sincerely hope that one of these techniques will work to help you as well!
Remember, you are loved, and you are not alone. If you’re feeling suicidal, please reach out! You can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline any time of day — simply dial 1-800-273-8255.