If you find yourself in an anxious and panicked state throughout your day, you are not alone. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders affect 18.1 percent of adults in the United States (approximately 40 million adults between the ages of 18 to 54). Even without a clinical disorder, stress affects us all and can be difficult to manage.
Now, you may be thinking that your day to day isn’t too stressful, but that’s probably because you’ve become accustomed to it. But I can promise you that your nervous system has not evolved to put up with the constant barrage of demands and notifications that flood your system on a daily basis. Our sympathetic nervous system (commonly referred to as the “fight or flight” portion) was designed to flood your system with hormones and chemicals to help you avoid becoming a cheetah’s dinner. What it was not designed to do was stay on high alert 24/7/365.
When our bodies experience chronic stress, it sets off a cascade of effects that wreaks havoc on every system of your body. But the good news (FINALLY!) is that reducing your stress is as simple as breathing.
Deep abdominal breathing utilizing the diaphragm (your primary breathing muscle) helps to turn down the sympathetic nervous system’s response and turn up it’s “rest and digest” partner in crime, the parasympathetic nervous system.
You don’t need any equipment to breathe, you do it 20,000 times a day whether you are thinking about it or not, but a focused effort to breathe into your belly can quickly reduce your stress.
- Get comfortable – if you’re sitting upright, make sure your posture is on point. You can also do this lying down, with your legs out straight or knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
- Close your eyes – now, this may set you on the quick path towards sleep, but if you are sleep deprived, that is also contributing to your stress, so sleep away. If you are able to stay awake, closing your eyes helps to limit the amount of visual input into your brain, which improves focus and helps the eye musculature to relax.
- Breathe – take long inhales through the nose that fill the belly first, and then fill into the rib cage. Add a pause for a slow count of 4 at the top of the inhale. Exhale slowly, pausing for 4 at the bottom. Continue the same pattern of inhale, pause, exhale and pause.
You probably want to set a timer for 5-10 minutes because I know you will get so relaxed and in the zone once you get started. Plus, by having the timer as a backup, you’re less likely to turn your mindfulness into a 2-hour-middle-of-the-afternoon nap.
The more you practice, the easier it will become to quickly calm your nerves in any situation. You’ll probably also find that you sleep better at night, concentrate more easily and are less irritable during the day. But don’t’ take my word for it – try it!
NIMH » Any Anxiety Disorder Among Adults.” https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-anxiety-disorder-among-adults.shtml. Accessed 29 Dec. 2016.
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