Dealing with anxiety can be frustrating but it doesn’t have to be. Did you know that approximately 18% of the population has experienced some form of anxiety? Experiencing anxiety and not knowing what to do about it can cause you to feel more anxious. What you may not realize is that anxiety is your body’s way of trying to get your attention. It’s a human safety feature that was adapted over centuries to help people survive. So when you stop and think about it in that way, we all should be grateful that our ancestors responded appropriately when they felt anxious encountering a life-threatening or dangerous situation. You may be saying to yourself, I don’t have to worry about situations that my ancestors faced, like say fighting off a bear, so why do I have to deal with anxiety? Again, it is your body’s way of trying to protect you. Fortunately, there are ways to signal to the body that you’re not in any life-threatening danger. Mindfulness activities, meditation and yoga are a couple of ways to train your body to relax when you feel anxious. Mindfulness activities help you to practice feeling without reacting by focusing on your attention on something, like your breathing. Speaking of breathing, did you know that we take approximately 16 breaths per minute, per day and that your breathing changes when you are feeling anxious? Breathing tends to be faster and shallow when you’re feeling anxious. Unfortunately, the faster you breath the less air makes it to your lungs and your heartbeat may speed up resulting in more anxiety. Taking deep breaths is a must when you feel your anxiety rising or spiking. Taking deep breaths signals to your body that it’s okay to calm down because you’re not in any life-threatening danger.
Let’s do a quick exercise. Count to 5 while taking a deep breath in. Then count to 5 while exhaling. Repeat these to steps a couple of times. Doesn’t that feel nice? Your lungs were able to take in more air and your heart rate slowed down resulting in you feeling more relaxed.
Remember, the more air you take in through deep breaths, the more relaxed and less anxious you will feel.
Christina is a Psychotherapist in private practice in Oakland California.