When we become anxious or in more extreme cases a panic attack develops, our mind and body enter into a state of fight or flight. This is a great strategy should we find ourselves in the middle of the jungle and a lion is about to attack, however, not so good when we are sitting in the workplace surrounded by work colleagues or a similar situation.
Just saying to yourself “just relax” or “calm down” is often not enough. Once our brain and body are primed, ready for action, it can take a bit more than just kind self-talk to calm us back down again.
The feelings and symptoms we experience when anxiety reaches a peak, are generally the product of our autonomic nervous system. When our subconscious detects a threat, it initiates various processes in our body and mind which we experience in different ways. The feelings experienced might include, racing heartbeat, increased sweating, and potentially lots of stomach churning. The sum of these feelings can at minimum make us feel uneasy and in certain cases result in a panic attack!
One of the most effective ways of taking back control of our mind and body in this situation is to control our breathing. Controlling the rate of breathing is a very good way of sending a message to the autonomic system, and to provide some self-regulation over what is happening.
By slowing down the rate of breathing, so that we breathe in for a prolonged period of time, and then breathe out for slightly longer, we cause our heartrate to also synchronise and reduce. This physical change is enough to signal our brain and body to ‘step down’ and not to become over excited about what triggered the process in the first place. It is surprising how quickly this technique can give back control and bring back a sense of calmness and stability.
To help with the process of controlling your breathing in a challenging situation, I have produced an “app” which I hope you may find very useful. Basically the app displays a hot air balloon which will rise and fall. The idea is for you to breathe in as the balloon rises up in the air, and breathe out as the balloon starts to fall back down again.
You can adjust the number of seconds the rise and fall takes, to suit your comfort and pace. The general principal is that you breathe out for longer than breathing in. Also try and breathe from the diaphragm (lower abdomen) rather than just upper body. It can help if you gently rest one hand on your belly, just covering the belly button, and notice as the air fills this area rather than the upper chest area.
To give the app a try, simply press the launch button below.