There are an infinite number of things that can trigger anxiety—public speaking, starting a new job, meeting new people. But for some people, anxiety can strike without warning, and for seemingly no reason.
Common feelings of anxiety like rapid breathing, light headedness, and nausea, are brought on by our ancient “fight or flight” instincts (which used to help us out-run predators). Nowadays, we aren’t necessarily trying to outrun a pack of wooly mammoths, but these instincts can still be activated.
Luckily, there are ways to combat mild anxiety. Various breathing techniques have been scientifically proven to work with your body’s natural systems and help you relax during times of high stress. So, the next time you’re feeling that panic in your stomach, try one of these strategies.
You may find yourself doing this naturally sometimes, but consciously breathing with your diaphragm (the muscle across the lower part of your stomach) can help reduce your heart rate and lessen the amount of stress hormones your body produces. Sit in a comfortable position, and, with one hand on our chest and the other on your lower stomach, take long, deep breaths—feeling your stomach expand as you inhale. Exhale slowly, and repeat as many times as you need.
This technique slows the nervous system to promote relaxation, and is based on a ratio of inhaling for four counts, holding your breath for seven counts, and exhaling for eight. Sit with your back as straight as possible, with your tongue pressed lightly behind your teeth. Take a breath in through your nose only, for four seconds. Hold your breath for seven seconds, and exhale slowly through your mouth, making an audible exhaling noise. Repeat three or four times, or as needed.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, this technique can aid with sedation and promotes feelings of sleepiness. Lying down with your eyes closed, inhale softly through your nose for four seconds, and extend your exhale for as long as possible. Repeat five or six times, and you’ll feel yourself become more and more sleepy each time. The longer you’re able to extend your exhale, the most sedative the practice will be.