Mindful Breathing Techniques to Decrease Anxiety

At this uncertain time the one subject that has continuously come up in my conversations is mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic. Many people in our community have been told to self-isolate for 14 days, while others have been encouraged to stay home and practice social distancing with no clear guidelines on when the isolation will be over. The unknown can be a frightening thing for many people who have not experienced feelings of anxiety before, let alone people with a pre-existing condition. The goal of this article is to educate you on the stress response of the body and give you a couple mindful breathing techniques in your day to combat the stress.

Our bodies may feel as if they are under attack right now, and when that happens our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is kicking into gear. When our sympathetic system kicks in the physical stress responses you will be able to feel most notably are an increased heart rate, and an increased breathing rate. There are other components such as increased blood pressure, pupil dilation, and decrease peristalsis (involuntary movement of the muscles that aid in digestion to move food through the system). The sympathetics kick in to prepare your body to fight or run, so these changes allow increased circulation and oxygen to your muscular system to be able to respond to the supposed fight.

We cannot control what is on the news, misinformation being spread, if we are out of work, that we have financial stressors, and so much unknown at this time. What we can try and control is our response to it.

This is where we need to lean on our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). It is known for being our rest and digest regulator. The SNS and PNS need to work in harmony to maintain balance in the body. The parasympathetic system works to bring the system down to normal after a stress response. The PNS will decrease heart rate, decrease respirations, bring down blood pressure, constrict the pupils, and increase peristalsis.

As long as your body has a perceived threat against it the sympathetics will be enabled leading to feelings of anxiety and the physical stress response of your body. During this time we want to engage the parasympathetics to try and bring harmony to the body in order to relax. Try to work the below breathing exercises into your day to achieve relaxation.

Lie comfortably on your back and place your hand on your stomach and focus on your breathing to allow the abdomen to rise up as you inhale and lower down when you exhale. Complete a cycle of 3 inhales and exhales in this position just trying to bring your attention to your breath to slow down its pace.

Bringing awareness to your breathing complete a 4 count inhale, pause at the top for 2 counts, and exhale for 6 counts.

Keep your breathing even. If the 4-2-6 count does not work for you, try a 2-1-3. If you find your mind wanders or worries, acknowledge it and try to bring your awareness back to the counting and your breath movement. This technique can be done anytime and anywhere. If you find yourself breathing faster and having an increased heart rate, take a couple minutes, do this breathing and you will find yourself in a more relaxed state.