It’s June 2021, and it’s cold.
Winter is here, and we are in the middle of a world-wide pandemic – one that has unleashed a series of horrifying Monsters who seem to be bringing with them an array of devastating consequences, both physically and emotionally.
Anxiety, Fear, Worry and Concern. Hopelessness, Loneliness and Isolation. Distrust and Paranoia… These are just some of the monsters who have taken up, what often feels like, permanent residency in many of our homes and communities.
In a series of articles, I would like to address some of these monsters, one by one, so that we can actively start evicting them from our mental and emotional homes. It won’t be easy, and some of them are persistent little buggers, who will fight us tooth and nail to maintain control and power. But we are stronger, we will persevere, and we will do what it takes to stay true to the course on this journey to emotional and mental wellness.
Let’s tackle Anxiety first.
Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress. It is a reaction to not feeling safe and one of fear or apprehension about what’s to come. Anxiety is great at causing us to feel nervous, restless, or tense, it is masterful at creating a sense of impending danger, panic, or doom. Anxiety causes a series of physical reactions; our heart rate starts increasing, we start breathing rapidly (hyperventilation), sweating, trembling. Anxiety could also cause us to feel weak or tired. We have trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry.
Anxiety has a physical component.
It’s important to note this physical component of Anxiety, as this is one of the areas where we can launch a very successful attack against this tenacious monster. One of the best defences that we have is the fact that we can actively focus on and change our breathing. As mentioned before, when Anxiety starts launching its attacks, our bodies respond physically by shortening and rapidly increasing our breathing. This is actually a defence mechanism that kicks in. When your body detects danger (real / perceived) it tries to get you back to safety, by getting the body action – ready.
When you manage to breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message back to the rest of your body. An important aspect of deep breathing is the long, full extended exhale, every time before you inhale deeply and fully. When we actively and consciously move from shallow breathing (or chest breathing) to deep breathing (belly breathing), our entire system starts responding by calming down.
How would we know if you we chest breathing instead of belly breathing?
- Chest breathing (or thoracic breathing), moves the chest out and/or the shoulders up with each inhale.
- Belly breathing (or abdominal- or diaphragmatic breathing) moves the abdomen or the belly out with each inhale and in with an exhale.
So, in other words when we breath in, we want our shoulders to stay where they are and our belly to extend or push out.
If the belly is still or moves inward when we inhale, we are chest breathing.
There are many other physical health benefits of deep breathing as well. Here is a link to an informative article on the benefits of deep breathing, with a video illustrating the 4-7-8- Breathing Technique .
Grounding is a technique used to help us to connect to the here and now, to the present moment. A lot of Anxiety’s power lays in the fact that it causes us to spend a lot of mental energy on “what if’s”. Through grounding, we can exit that mental trap and bring our focus back to what we are experiencing in the immediate, present moment. Usually, our present moment is safe; if it is not, we need to start actively working on changing that. If it is safe though, disconnecting from the “What if’s”, and connecting to the safer hear and now, also assists to calm our systems down and to bring us back into regulation.
How do we ground ourselves?
There are quite a few grounding techniques that one could utilise, I especially like the 5-4-3-2-1- technique.
Using your senses, purposefully turn your attention to:
- 5 things that you can see in your surroundings and physically say it out loud. I usually add a specific colour to challenge myself a bit more. For example, “5 GREEN things that I can see”
- 4 things that you can physically feel and label them out load. For example, the texture of your shirt between your fingers, the pressure of your feet on the ground etc.
- 3 things you can hear around you and physically say it out load
- 2 things that you can smell or remember smelling, and voice that out load
- 1 thing that you can taste or remember tasting and mention that out load.
It takes time
One of the biggest mistakes that we make when launching an attack against any monster that might be attacking us, be it physically, emotionally, or mentally, is we don’t commit to the plan. For some reason, we expect this fight to be easy. We expect success and ultimate victory after the very first counterattack and if that doesn’t happen for us, we abandon the plan, we give up, we surrender! Be very clear: this is not how it works. You are going to have to go into this battle fully knowing and understanding that this is a process, one that you must commit to, if you want to succeed.
Take it one day at a time. Sometimes you are going to have to take it one moment at a time!
Do your deep breathing or grounding techniques every morning, before your day starts, when you are standing in the shower, when you are driving to work, before you head into a meeting, before you make that phone call, pick your kids up or answer your spouse.
Do these daily as your first line of defence, practice these until they become habitual.
Keep an eye out for my next article, where I will discuss the mental component of Anxiety. I will be sharing some ideas on strengthening your battle plan against this monster, by strengthening our mental attack against it.
Remember that it is okay not to be okay and that asking for help is not weak!
The Vita Nova Counselling Centre is here to help. We offer face to face counselling sessions, but we are also available to see you online, via Zoom or Teams.
- To secure a session with one of our counsellors, click HERE.
Our Humanitas Counselling Students are making their time available to assist free of charge and they are available to see you online.
- To request a FREE online session with one of our Humanitas Counselling Students, click HERE.
Take Care Everyone.