When we get upset, the first reaction people have is to say “calm down!” or “relax!”
Of course we all think the same thing when someone tells us that, “IF IT WAS THAT EASY, I WOULD HAVE DONE IT ALREADY!!!”
So, yeah, when a friend of yours is upset, please do not just tell them to calm down or relax… it’s not helpful.
So what is helpful? How do we actually calm down and relax when we feel overwhelmed with stress or anxiety?
There are a few techniques I’ll cover in my next few posts that you can experiment with.
Deep Breathing to reduce anxiety symptoms
Another common refrain when we’re upset is someone saying to “take a deep breath.”
Usually we ignore them because we’re upset.
This actually is the number one easiest way to help reduce stress/anxiety/anger in the moment… when you remember it… and when you do it properly!! “Do it properly? But it’s just taking a deep breath, right?”
Not exactly. Most of us take deep breaths only when the doc asks us to during our annual physical, or when we’ve had to chase our two year old around the yard for too long.
Those deep breaths are helpful for the doctor to hear our lungs, and to replenish the oxygen used by our muscles during the exercise, but not so much for relaxation.
To achieve the benefits of relaxation, we really want to focus on taking long, slow, deep breaths.
To start, focus on a slow in breath through the nose, and having your belly expand at the beginning. This ensures we are filling the full capacity of our lungs, because our normal breaths are often focused up in shoulders.
Expand the belly first, and then slowly continue to fill the lungs to a full, but comfortable capacity. Then, pause for one second before slowly allowing all the air to escape through your mouth.
Continue exhaling until the lungs are comfortably empty. Repeat these slow, deep breaths three to five times in a row.
Most people tell me that their anxiety or stress levels drop a couple notches, say from an 8 to a 6, just by spending one minute doing this.
Watch my video here for a demonstration.
In person, after I do this demonstration, most people tell me they are surprised at just how slow it actually is.
How does this reduce stress?
When we feel stressed or anxious, our body literally goes into fight, flight, or freeze mode. This sets off a chain reaction and our muscles tense up, our breathing becomes shallow, our heart rate increases, etc.
All those things are actually really good if our life is in jeopardy, but not so good when they're happening on a daily basis.
When we are able to slow down our breathing with this technique, it sends a signal to the brain that we are not really in danger and that it's okay to relax.
Consider this, if a crocodile was staring at you ready to pounce, would you physically be able to slow your breathing?
So when we do slow down our breathing, it often helps take down our stress or anxiety levels a couple notches.
I also love this deep breathing technique because it’s so simple, and you can do it anywhere without anybody knowing you’re using a coping skill.
Literally, I was in a job interview once and did this while the interviewer was talking and he was none the wiser.
If you want to give it a shot, practice a couple times a day when you're not feeling particularly stressed.
That way you build the muscle memory to be able to use the skill when you really need it!
I like to do it right before I fall asleep, but you can find a time that is convenient for you (e.g., getting into the car, after waking up, etc.).
If you're feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed and think that a relaxation technique isn’t enough, and that talking to someone would be helpful, please reach out to me and we will get you started on the path to taking back control of your life. I provide free 30 minute consultations that you can schedule through the button below, or you can e-mail or call 727-469-3008.