Problems with anxiety? Stage fright? Nervous when meeting new people? Jumpy?
How do you manage your symptoms so they are not misinterpreted by others? How do you manage your feelings so your brain doesn’t “turn off” when you need it most? The answer is to practice relaxation.
When you feel nervous in a situation, your body interprets that feeling as fear. It does not determine whether the feeling is caused by a life-threatening danger or by anxiety - they are viewed as the same thing. So your body kicks into action and turns on the stress response.
The stress response is automatic and is meant to protect you. Many body systems are engaged and “rerouted” when survival mode is activated. Your pupils dilate, your heart rate increases, your breathing gets shallow, your extremities may get warm or cold, your digestive system “turns off,” and you may start sweating. The body turns off any systems it doesn’t need, because all it needs to do is focus on survival. Most people also experience an inability to focus, disruptions in memory, and even dissociation.
If your body’s stress response is activated, is there a way to tell it to stop doing that? Absolutely! The only way to do it is to speak in the language of sensation. Of all the body systems that are activated, the only one you can control is your breathing. When you take control of your breathing, the heart slows down and the other systems begin to relax. In essence, you are giving your body the signal that everything is OK, there is no need to panic.
Follow these steps to calm your stress response.
1. Exhale completely. When all the air is out of your lungs, push one more time to make sure.
2. Inhale slowly through your nose until your lungs are completely filled.
3. Hold for 1-4 seconds (based on your comfort level).
4. Exhale slowly out of your mouth. Pretend you are blowing the air out through a straw. When you think all the air is out, push one more time to make sure.
5. Repeat steps 2-4 at least 4 times or until you feel your heart rate decrease.
Getting these steps perfect is not necessary and there are other ways to breathe. The important thing to remember is to breathe within your ability, breathe in deeper than you normally do, and exhale slowly and completely.
This technique can be used before writing a test, performing on stage, meeting new people, before job interviews or any time you feel “keyed up.” Just remember - controlled breathing lets your body know there is nothing to fear.
• Practice before you get nervous to perfect the technique and reap benefits for overall stress relief.
• Teach your kids, friends, coworkers and anyone else you know. This solidifies the technique in your mind and gives you people who can remind you to breathe if you forget.
• Combine with physical movement. Yoga is the best example, but simple stretching is just as effective.
• Make it fun! Blow a pinwheel, hold a music note, have contests, blow bubbles through a straw, or slurp a slushie.
Trudi Griffin is a counselor at Ten Clinic in Waxahachie. She can be reached at 972-576-3032, or firstname.lastname@example.org.