Okay, disclaimer: I can't guarantee these techniques will lower your anxiety in under a minute but I'm fairly certain you will feel calmer and more grounded after trying these in 1 minute or less.
Our breath is our only way to control our autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system has two parts: 1. the sympathetic nervous system (fight flight or freeze) 2. the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). When we are stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed the sympathetic nervous system turns on and gets us ready for danger. This is the part of the nervous system that releases adrenaline, cortisol, and all the bad stuff associated with stress. Breathing techniques turn on the parasympathetic nervous system which is the part of our nervous system responsible for calming us down, bringing our body back to homeostasis, and turns off the fight flight or freeze mode. Deep breathing lowers heart rate, decreases blood pressure, and lowers cortisol levels (the stress hormone). Breath is powerful guys!! Below I've compiled 4 breathing techniques you can try to decrease anxiety/stress in under a minute:
- Deep Diaphragm Breathing: This is just a fancy word for deep breathing, but trust me it works. When we are stressed we often take shallow, rapid breaths from our chest which perpetuates the stress cycle in our body, keeping the sympathetic nervous system turned on (our body's fight flight or feeze response). The diaphragm muscle is a dome-shaped muscle right under our rib cage. You can usually find it by placing your hand right above your belly button so that your pinky finger just grazes the top of the belly button. Take a slow deep breath in and feel your hand raise as your diaphram muscle expands. Exhale a long slow deep breath and feel your diaphram contract. Repeat until you feel better.
- Ujjayi Breath: Pronounced (oo-jai). This is a form of breath often practiced in hatha and vinyasa yoga. It's said to support the mind body connection within the yoga practice by linking the breath to your movement in asanas. Ujjayi breath can also be helpful during times of stress as it connects you to your autonomic nervous system, more specifically the part of the nervous system responsible for regulating and calming the mind/body. Ujjayi is practiced by breathing in and out through the nose, but constricting the back of the throat to make your breath audible. This constriction is the same you use when fogging up a mirror with the "ha" sound. The only difference is with ujjayi, your mouth is closed instead of open. I've heard it called ocean breathing, or Darth Vader breathing because it sounds like both. Still confused? Check out this short ujjayi video tutorial here.
- Alternate Nostril Breathing: This is one of my personal favorites. I've mentioned it here in a blog post on managing anxiety. In this method you take a finger and place it on the side of your nose, pushing against your nose until you plug the nostril. Breathe in so that you are only breathing in through the unplugged nostril. Once your lungs are full, remove your finger and switch to plug the other nostril. Breathe out so that you are only breathing out through one nostril. Continue this way, alternating breathing in through one nostril, then out through the other until you feel calm and grounded. Still confused? Read further instructions here.
- Square Breathing: This is called square breathing because you breathe in for 4 counts, hold the breath for 4 counts, breathe out for 4 counts, and then hold for 4 counts. If you were to draw a picture with this breathing, it would look like a square. Repeat this square breath until you feel calm and grounded. My suggestion would be to set a timer for 1 minute and practice it until the timer dings.
Seriously, try all of these while you read this post so that you'll know how to do them in the future. Practice these breathing techniques on a regular basis to prevent anxiety and to decrease anxiety when it rears its head. The more you practice when you feel good, the more likely you are to be able to recall them when in crisis. Happy breathing : )