Have you ever been driving along on the freeway, having a grand time listening to your favorite tune, only to have someone swerve into your lane? Nearly hitting you? You quickly adjust as needed, maybe shout a couple cuss words, and go about your driving, perhaps a little more irritated then before. Unless you suffer from anxiety. In that case, you are likely to react as I do – the body begins to sweat, breathing becomes difficult, the senses become extreme and overwhelming.
Welcome to the start of an anxiety attack at the worst timing. In the middle of the freeway, there’s no time to slowly calm yourself down. You need a trick that works fast!
Whether you are in a social function, an important meeting at work, or even in the comfort of your own home, panic never really appears at the “right time.” That’s why I have been working to develop tricks to help me quickly alleviate major anxiety symptoms as quickly as they appear.
I know these methods work, because I have not only used them in my own life, but my students have experienced breakthroughs as well. If you only choose to try one of these practices, I highly suggest learning how to control your breath.
Breath control is what saves me from having a melt down in traffic. It is what saves me when I feel overwhelmed by crowds at a grocery store. Taking control of my breath, helps me feel in control of my anxiety, instead of letting it run the show.
While there are a number of breathing practices that help me to focus and feel better, I share two of my favorite practices for calming. Taking control of the breath and slowing it down reminds the body that everything is okay. It helps to calm down the amygdala (the “fight or flight” part of the brain), which is usually triggered with anxiety.
Try one of these two breath practices when you’re experiencing anxiety:
Ujjayi Breath (Yogi’s Breath)
This style of breathing is traditional to the yoga practice. While breathing through the nose, contract the back of the throat, causing your breath to make an audible sound similar to Darth Vader. If you’re new to this practice, try it first with your mouth open. As you exhale, imagine trying to create fog on a mirror, making an audible “haaaaa” noise. Once you get the feeling on the throat, try the same breath with the mouth closed.
It is called square breathing because the breath sequence makes the pattern of a square. Choose a count for the practice; I suggest counting to a number between three and ten depending on your lunge capacity. Let’s say you choose four counts. Simply, inhale for four counts, hold your breath for four counts, exhale for four counts, and hold your breath again for four counts. Continue the pattern for as long as you would like, but I would try at least ten rounds.
Shake it out – Seriously
When we are living in a state of stress or anxiety, the body responds accordingly. With the amygdala triggered, we find ourselves experiencing the fight or flight energy that plays out in very real ways on the body. Our muscles contract and the body tenses up. For many of us, we feel this tension in our shoulders and upper back, as our body naturally hunches forward to protect our chest.
In most tribal cultures, dancing or shaking the body out is used as a way to deal with trauma in the body. Women and men would come together and shake their bodies off around a campfire, releasing grief, pain, and stress. Similarly, a gazelle that escapes the chase of a lion will “shake it off” once it finds safety. This shaking releases the trauma and fear it just experienced, allowing the gazelle to move forward fearlessly.
We still have this ability to release ourselves by shaking it off. In Kundalini practice, yogis traditionally shake out their hands, arms, and entire bodies to release the ego and/or built up emotions. If you are feeling anxious, I encourage you to literally shake it out. Shake madly! Dance it out! Release the tension in the body.
Breath of Joy
While this practice may look and feel silly, it always leaves me feeling lighter. Plus, being silly is kind of the point. Isn’t one of the major causes of anxiety our persistent need to take life so damn seriously? Allow yourself child-like goofiness!
How to practice Breath of joy
Start standing with the feet just wider than hip distance apart. On the inhale, sweep both hands overhead. As you exhale, give yourself a hug by wrapping one arm over the other and reaching for the shoulder blades. Inhaling, reach the hands back overhead. Exhaling, bend into the knees, fold forward at the hips, and allow the hands to sweep towards the floor. Repeat the cycle from the beginning. Attempt to make each round of breathing faster and faster.
Check out my quick video to walk you through the practice at home. Don’t take yourself so damn serious. Have fun and relax!
See? Not so bad, huh?
I’m telling you – these practices help me go from a panicked mess to a calm headed woman, ready to think clearly and consciously. Please note, these practices may not alleviate the root cause of the anxiety, but they help to get you into a calmer state of mind to either figure out the cause or come back to it later.
Practicing yoga regularly has been one of the best ways for me to reduce my anxiety levels overall. If you’re looking for a sequence to alleviate anxiety, I’ve got you covered. My post on yoga for anxiety also has a printable yoga sequence you can try at home.
Do you suffer from anxiety? What tips or tricks have helped you alleviate symptoms? Comment below. Through sharing our story, we can help others find healing too.
If you are needing someone to talk to about anxiety, I’m here for you. It’s been a mission of mine to find ways to reduce my own anxious tendencies and I am more than happy to help. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to talk privately.
You’ve got this, and I am rooting for you!