The Best Breathing Exercise to Use When You Feel Stressed Out
Change can introduce us to some new age sh*t we've never dealt with before. I'm talking about those moments where you're feeling feels you didn't know you were capable of and beyond the panic of the moment, you're also freaking out because you have NO idea who this new person is.
I used to always think that I was pretty badass and resilient. I thought that depression and anxiety, worry, self-doubt, and insecurities were things I'd outgrow. I also thought that I'd always be able to manage these things like a pro when they sprouted up.
But the past couple years of my life have really shown me that life can bring just about ANYTHING your way and no one is off limits.
I don't say this to scare you or tell you that your time is coming. Not everyone experiences either of these things. But I am here to tell you that depression and anxiety are not a weakness and they aren't a sign that you've done anything "wrong" or that you're not a level infinity mindfulness guru - because even those people experience everything we do.
Just the other day I had three, 3, THREE crippling bouts of anxiety so strong that I hurled myself into the bed and took a giant nap. At one point I started bawling and felt completely out of control. It wasn't until my dog Bella climbed up on top of my chest and put her nose as close to mine as she could that I was reminded to be in the moment. To ALLOW myself to be in the moment, to cry, to feel whatever this crazy awful intense flood of feelings was about. The weight of her on my chest made me notice my breath, and as soon as I could feel myself breathing, I was able to calm down, my tears stopped, my breathing settled into a rhythm that felt consistent with my heartbeat, and I gained clarity of what was happening.
I gained acceptance that I was upset and that it was okay, and that in this moment, together, body and mind (and 70lb Bella) we were going to get through this, one second at a time.
If you've experienced anxiety, you know how varied it can feel. Sometimes it's a rush of pure isolation, other times it's anger or frustration, sometimes it's a completely paralyzing feeling of "I can't." In fact, there are an abundant amount of ways that anxiety can manifest.
After I go through something like this, there's a moment where it ends where I feel okay. Kind of like a headache that finally subsides. The residual pain is still there but it feels so much better than it did, that there's a mini celebration of relief. As that continues, I'm always reminded of how "fleeting" the attack was in the grand scheme of things, how it always ends, and how it never changes who I am at my core.
Today I realized that there will always be things I can do to help prevent anxiety attacks and manage them when they occur but that they may never end. Life will bring what it will. We cannot avoid pain completely. It made me think of the things I'd say to myself when I'm feeling so overwhelmed and alone. The things I'd like to hear in the sincerest form, knowing how true they are because they are coming straight from the soul of my heart, straight from the source where they occur. It also made me want to take action and find tools and resources I know I can tap into when I feel lost and helpless.
Below is the most powerful breathing exercise I've found when I am feeling overwhelmed or having a bout of anxiety. Try it out and see how it works for you.
Activate your Parasympathetic Nervous System or PNS.
Our PNS is responsible for balancing out our body and calming it down. If you've heard of the "fight or flight" response, then you're already familiar with the Autonomic Nervous System which helps kick our bodies into gear when we need to act fast. The problem is that the ANS can turn on with just about any stressor. Our body isn't always aware of what is a real threat and what is a mental one. Learning how to activate your PNS can help you calm your body down and reduce your heart rate, which can make it a lot easier to navigate tough thoughts and overwhelmed feelings. Here's an easy exercise that really works.
Take a moment to try this out and notice how you feel.
Remember that everything we experience is fleeting.
Nothing lasts forever, especially emotions, feelings, and even physical sensations. Sure, they may come and go and some can be more chronic in nature, but during the escalation of a panic attack, it's important to remember that you won't feel this way forever.