Category: Stress

Stress and anxiety relief in 3 simple breathing exercises

3 simple breathing exercises
Breathing exercises can help you manage stress naturally

It is not uncommon to feel your attention being hijacked by automatic thoughts and the unpleasant emotions that follow. Even when we feel helplessly under the control of our own thinking, we still have the power to balance our emotional responses independently and naturally. Excessive worrying, hypervigilance, intrusive thoughts and other anxiety related symptoms may make you feel disconnected, but something as simple as your own breathing can bring you back to the here and now and help you feel at one with your body again. To help you manage stress more effectively, here are 3 simple breathing exercises that will enhance your sense of self-control:

Belly breathing

Sitting or lying down in a comfortable position, start breathing in and out gently through your nose. When you feel relaxed and ready for this exercise, lay your hand on your belly and take a deep breath in, filling it up as you do so like a small balloon. You do not need to force yourself to make it expand, but just focus on breathing into the belly and making it rise with air. On the out breath, feel it being emptied as it comes down to its natural position. Repeat these belly breaths for several times (1 to 3 minutes) until you notice your muscles relax, one by one. Enjoy the sensation of being in a calm state and notice how it affects your whole body.

Coherent breathing

Sitting or lying down in a comfortable position, start breathing in and out gently through your nose. Direct your attention to your breath as it fills your lungs with air and leaves your body through your nostrils. In the meantime, observe your thoughts without judgement, letting them come and go as if flowing through a river.

When you have managed to slow down the pace of your normal breathing, start counting silently in your mind:

  • Breathe in and count 1, 2, breathe out and count 1, 2

Repeat this for two breaths

  • Breath in and count 1, 2, 3, breathe out and count 1, 2, 3

Repeat this for three breaths

  • Breath in and count 1, 2, 3, 4, breathe out and count 1, 2, 3, 4

Repeat this for four breaths

  • Breath in and count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, breathe out and count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Repeat this for five breaths

“Cigarette” breathing 

Sitting in a comfortable position, start breathing in and out through your mouth. Breathe deeply and purse your lips a little as if you were smoking a cigarette, while you focus on the air going in and out of your body through your mouth. Notice how the tension that weighs heavily on your neck and shoulders starts to dissipate at each complete breath. Keep breathing in and out through your mouth and pursed lips for 1 to 2 minutes, or until you have reached a calmer and more centred state of being.

Increasing self-awareness through thought monitoring can also help you identify what is triggering negative emotional states. Combine that with some quick and easy breathing exercises and you can regain a sense of emotional balance to get you through the tough times without compromising quality of life.

2 simple mindfulness exercises to help you cope with pressure

2 simple mindfulness exercises to help you cope with pressure
Mindfulness can help you feel at one with yourself

Given the hectic pace of modern life, feeling under pressure to live up to everyone’s expectations – including our own – can easily turn into yet another unhealthy habit. Because our lives have never been as monitored or exposed to so much scrutiny as in recent years, it may feel hard to let go of that need to strive for excellence, regardless of the impact that that attitude has on you. In the era of smart phones and social media, not looking “super active” and “always busy” can easily make you feel like a lost soul, a social outcast or, simply put, just not good enough. To live a truly authentic life has become a challenge at a time when just allowing oneself to sit still and do nothing sounds like a great oddity.

Even when you feel easily swayed by perfectionist ideals, you still have a choice. You can surrender to the pressure of being there for everyone and everything but yourself, and keep on struggling to deliver that picture of success and popularity, or take this moment to make it be about you. The real you, that is, the one who like all human beings needs to nurture the connection with his own body in order to feel in harmony with himself and others. Making the time to be about you does not only mean “treating yourself” to something expensive, tasty or new. It also means taking that moment to be there for yourself, to feel what it feels to be you at that moment. All without judgement. All without having to do things a certain way (like having to follow a stereotype of “me time”, as in lying in a hot bath seeping a glass of red wine or eating a huge bar of chocolate while binge watching a TV series on Netflix. If any of those things happen not to be available… well, then you are stuck with that bad feeling!).

Mindfulness can help you feel at one with yourself without having to get out of your way in search of something elaborate to reach that peace of mind. Just taking little time to focus on your breathing can allow you to reconnect with your body, honour that moment and the sensations that make you whole, attending to the whole you. You do not have to be a Buddhist to practice it, or a great connoisseur of Eastern philosophy to master it. Mindfulness in already part of you – that unique ability you already possess to use thought to focus on yourself and observe your own thinking, feelings and behaviours.

If you feel under stress and would like to give mindfulness a try, below you will find 2 simple mindfulness exercises to help you cope with pressure:

1- Grounding yourself

Sitting on a chair in an erect yet comfortable position, take a couple of minutes to bring the focus of your attention to your breathing. Observe how your chest expands at each in breath, filling your whole body with air and, at the out breath, giving that natural feeling of relaxation. When you feel yourself relaxing as the mind reconnects with the body, let go of the chest and bring the focus of your attention to your feet. Attend to the sensations of contact between the soles of your feet and the surface on which they are resting. Feel how the whole you, your legs, torso, arms and head are connected to that surface. Feel yourself as a unit, as a body sitting in that position. Examine the sensations that intensify your perception of what it means to be that body at that moment, like feeling the hard surface of the chair against your skin or noticing feelings of heaviness or lightness in the limbs. Then remind yourself of where you are, what day of the week and time of the day it is. Own that moment by feeling fully there in the present, mind and body, all in one sitting on that chair and just being yourself at that precise time and space.

2- Stress relief

Sitting on a chair in an erect yet comfortable position, take a couple of minutes to bring the focus of your attention to your breathing. Observe how your chest expands at each in breath, filling your whole body with air, and at the out breath, giving that natural feeling of relaxation. When you feel yourself relaxing as the mind reconnects with the body, let go of the chest and bring the focus of your attention to your whole body. As you search for the sensations present in that moment, identify the one that makes you feel crushed. That sensation may be a feeling of pressure around your chest, a tightness of the neck or jaw or feelings of heaviness, pain or pressure in the abdominal area, for instance. As soon as you connect to that part of your body, dedicate a couple of minutes to focus your attention on that region. Take time to attend to the bodily sensations that reflect that negative emotional state. Notice how stress is felt by you in that particular region. Fully attend to the source of your discomfort. As your thinking starts to process those sensations, notice what happens when they start to dissipate into the rest of the body as flowing energy. Feel a shift in those sensations as they disappear from awareness. Enjoy that feeling of relief and reconciliation as your attention claims back your entire body.

Whenever you feel overwhelmed or disconnected, as if you were running on autopilot, take a few minutes to practice one of the above. Both exercises will allow you to feel refreshed and centred. It is vital to your general psychological and emotional wellbeing to attend to those negative feelings as soon as they arise. Letting them build up as if they were not as important as whatever you are doing at that moment has the potential to result in mental health complications later on, such an episode of burnout or depression, or even a full-blown anxiety disorder. Get your priorities right by learning how to love and respect the whole you, body and soul.

3 relaxation techniques for excessive worrying and anxiety

3 Relaxation techniques for excessive worrying and anxiety
Relaxation exercises help you manage stress and deal with anxiety

If you struggle to handle excessive worrying or fear that you might suffer from anxiety, there is a lot you can do to help yourself. There are many ways to manage stress, be it through regular physical exercise, eating healthily, maintaining a sensible work and life balance and/or seeking support from a qualified counsellor. Incorporating relaxation exercises into your daily routine gives you some time to recharge, feel grounded and in control of yourself. It is an excellent strategy to prevent stress-related problems such as burnout, as well as to manage panic attacks.

The best relaxation practice is the one with which you identify the most. Below I suggest 3 techniques I usually recommend to my clients. To find out what works for you, test them out for free on YouTube. You can also purchase some very good audio CD’s at amazon and listen to them on your mp3 player. Make sure you do your relaxation exercises at least 5 days/week. The more committed you are to keeping a relaxation routine, the quicker you will enjoy its benefits.

Here are 3 relaxation techniques for excessive worrying and anxiety:

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

PMR focuses on the relaxation of muscle groups, one by one, starting on your toes and working your way up to your face and jaw muscles.

How it works: Contract a group muscle for 5 seconds and then release for 30 seconds while fully enjoying that feeling of relaxation.

Resources: if you prefer guided PMR exercises, I recommend the following:

Audio CD:

Progressive Muscle Relaxation after E. Jacobson: Exercises for Deep Holistic Relaxation, by Carola Riss-Tafiilaj

On YouTube:

Progressive muscle relaxation (WITH music), by Relax For A While

Relaxation Response

The Relaxation Response is a meditation modality that concentrates on breathing, relaxation of the muscles and management of distractive/negative thoughts.

How it works: follow the steps below:

1- Find a comfortable position in a quiet environment.

2- Close your eyes.

3- Relax all muscles starting on your face and moving all the way down to your toes.

4- Focus on you breathing and say “one” in your mind when breathing out.

5- When a thought races through your mind, say “one” in your mind again.

Continue doing that for 10 to 20 minutes.

Resources: if you prefer guided Relaxation Response exercises, I recommend the following:

Audio CD:

Ten Minutes To Relax – Living the Love Response, by Eva Selhub

On YouTube:

Relaxation Response Video Exercise: Meditate with Peg Baim, MS, NP

Visualisation

Visualisation is the practice of using the mind to picture oneself in a calm and safe place. Imagining yourself in a tranquil and pleasant environment helps you relax body and mind, while distracts you from negative and often unproductive thoughts.

How it works: Seat comfortably somewhere quiet. Close your eyes and mentally choose a safe, relaxing place as somewhere clean and calming. Imagine yourself in that place; enjoying everything it has to offer in a serene, tranquil and untroubled way. Feel your body and mind relax while you immerse yourself in that environment.

Resources: if you prefer guided Visualisation exercises, I recommend the following:

Audio CD:

Beginner’s Guide to Meditation & Visualisation, by Sally-Ann Taylor

On YouTube:

Ocean Escape (with music): Walk Along the Beach Guided Meditation and Visualization, by Relax For A While