This is the fourth and final post in the series on Grounding Techniques for Anxiety. I recommend starting with parts one, two and three first, before moving on to this post. The final grounding tool I’m going to offer you is breath.
Tool #4: The Breath as Support
If you have ever experienced stress or anxiety, are you aware of what happens with your breath?
The breath is always with us, but because it doesn’t take conscious effort to breath, we often don’t even notice how we’re breathing. In stress and anxiety, what often happens is that the breath becomes shallow or quick. And if you’ve ever tried to feel grounded while breathing this way, you’ll know it’s not so easy.
Diaphragmatic breathing, or simply, breathing deeply into the belly, used to be something that might have seemed ‘hokey,’ or something only yogis did. However, deep breathing and mindfulness-based stress reduction programs have become mainstream and programs can be found around the world in well respected organizations and institutions, and much research has been done to validate its use for stress-related emotional disorders.1
Remember the fight, flight or freeze response I described in Part 1 of this series? Well, studies have shown that slow, deep breathing can actually help to support the body in self-regulating, bringing us back to balance. In particular, deep breathing can reduce cortisol levels, which is one of the key stress hormones.1
Okay, enough about the theory, let’s get into practice!
One way to start, is just to notice, from time to time, how you’re breathing. Ask yourself when you remember throughout the day…Am I breathing right now? This can bring the practice of deep breathing into your everyday life and can be easier than setting up a daily breathing practice. Deep breathing can be done anywhere, anytime. While you’re sitting at your desk, walking down the street, watching TV, etc. You might notice certain situations or times when your breath becomes shallower or quicker and these could become the times when you put more focus on your breathing, or use it as a cue for amping up your self-care.
Another way is to place your hands on your belly. Then, just breathe into them. Feel your belly rise and fall. Notice how your body responds. Do you feel more relaxed or supported?
Or, you could try breathing in through your nose, right down into your belly, breathing in until you are full up. Then, slowly breathe out through your mouth as though you are gently blowing out birthday candles.2 And repeat.
Even one deep breath is better than none. So don’t let suggestions on setting up a daily meditation keep you from practicing. When feeling stressed, perhaps you could try three deep breaths, and see how you feel. How does the breath support you?
There are lots of apps and breathing techniques out there which can be very helpful and interesting to explore. At the same time, I would say, don’t get hung up on the technique and whether you’re doing it right or not. Explore different ways of breathing, and find out for yourself which way feels most supportive or relaxing . Go by what feels good for you.
This is the last of the Grounding Techniques for Anxiety series; I hope you found it helpful. Grounding is a practice and, as with other things, the more we practice the easier and more natural it will become. Above all, go gentle with yourself and find practices that are do-able and that work for you.
While focusing on the breath can be supportive for some, for others it may not be, especially if there has been a traumatic experiencing involving this part of the body. You know yourself best. If any of these exercises increases your anxiety level, let it go and try another one, or do something you know works for you. Depending on the severity of your anxiety or trauma history, you may need more support before being able to engage with these tools.
If anxiety is impairing your everyday functioning or if you’re just looking for more support, please contact Intake at C.M.H.A. H.K.P.R. at 705-748-6711 or 1-866-990-9956 to find out what programs and services would be best for you.
If your anxiety is mild to moderate, not severe, you can also check out the new BounceBack Program, managed by C.M.H.A. Ontario, which is a telephone coaching program for people experiencing mild to moderate anxiety or depression.. Both services are completely free of charge.
Ma, X., et al. (2017). The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 874. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874
Bergland, C. (2017). Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises and Your Vagus Nerve. Psychology Today. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/the-athletes-way/201705/diaphragmatic-breathing-exercises-and-your-vagus-nerve