Using the Breath to Calm Down
A simple way to calm down from a stressful event, or during an anxiety attack, is to use something you always have with you–your breath.
When we are stressed the Sympathetic Nervous System is activated, this is the body's ancient method of helping keep us safe; if we met a predator in the old hunter-gatherer days, we had 3 options: to fight them, flee from them, or freeze (play dead). We are no longer hunted by wild boar, but the body responds in the same way to any perceived threat, real or imaginary. The same systems are activated whether we are in a fender bender, or a friend blanks us on the street.
You can probably tell your Sympathetic Nervous System is activated if your heart rate has sped up, your breath has quickened, and possibly your limbs are tingling or shaking (they're ready to sprint to safety!).
In the old days, once the threat disappeared, the Parasympathetic Nervous System would kick in and restore balance. This system reduces the heart rate and blood pressure, returning the body to a relaxed state. Now however, our faster pace of life can have us in a low level of stress, making it more difficult for the Parasympathetic Nervous System to do it's thing. We can add to this by keeping the threat alive in our minds, replaying the scenario over and over in our heads. The body doesn't know the difference between a thought and reality, so it responds in the same way, activating the Sympathetic Nervous System active against the perceived threat.
A simple way to calm down is by making the exhale longer than the inhale. Doing this, you consciously activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System, telling the body it's safe to relax, the threat is gone, all is well.
If you count the breath as you go, your mind is kept busy and doesn't have time to go over the event, keeping it alive in your thoughts.
The next time you find yourself feeling stressed, or after an upsetting event, thy this:
"If prolonged, however, the stress signals whizzing through the body wreak havoc. Besides maintaining a mental feeling of constant stress, the extra epinephrine and cortisol damage blood vessels, increase blood pressure and promote a buildup of fat. So, while the fight-or-flight response serves a purpose, you don't want it switched on all the time." - Live Science
Working With Troublesome Thoughts
If you stop and look it it, you might realise that many of our problems come not from events themselves, but our thoughts about those events. For example, if I apply for a job and don't get it, it's pretty crap in itself, but, my thoughts will then jump in and make it much worse. I might think: "I'm such a failure for not getting that job, nothing ever works out for me, life is shit!", instead of the more rational: "There were 200 people going for this job, so the chances weren't that good that I would get it, I know I don't have X skill that they were looking for."
Inside our own heads we tend to give ourselves the worst deal, and no-one can hear us do it, so we get away with it all day long. If a friend was listening in on our internal conversation, they would intervene with a less negatively biased, and more rational, and kinder version of what we tell ourselves, and we'd probably feel a lot better as a result!
If we want a more peaceful and happy life, we need to get better at challenging our own thoughts, and choosing more wisely what to believe. Here are a couple of questions you can use to help you do that:
"Thoughts simply aren’t facts, they are mental events that pop up in the mind and are dependent on our mood." - Elisha Goldstein
Patience & Acceptance
Hello again, it's been a while! Apologies for the radio silence over the past few months, I've been very busy learning about some of the things I try to encourage in my clients, Patience and Acceptance!
I had surgery a few months ago, and when I went off work I was sure I would be back in a few weeks. I was incredibly frustrated when the few weeks were up and I was still needing a nap after doing the smallest thing!
I continued this pattern of placing unrealistic expectations on my recovery, and then getting down on myself when I didn't meet them, and I'll be honest, I still do it.
However, now that I am aware what I'm up to I'm getting better at catching myself in the act, and stopping it before it spirals into anger and frustration with myself and my imagined failings.
When I notice what I am doing (it usually comes in the form of thinking there is something wrong with me for not being fully healed yet, or disliking my body for the extra few pounds I can't shake because I can't exercise properly), I stop, and remind myself that healing needs time, so I need patience. This is relatively easy for me, it's logical and I get it. The more difficult part is the acceptance.
How can I accept what is difficult in my life? I know I need to do this because studies have shown that resisting difficult feelings actually strengthens them. I can see this in myself too, when I resist how things are, then I am actually telling myself that there is something wrong with me, that I am not good enough. So here is what acceptance looks like for me:
Wherever you are at today, whatever you are struggling against, see if you can bring some acceptance to your situation, and most importantly, yourself. Don't fight what can't change, save your energy for things that can. :)
"For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining, is to let it rain." – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The Weekly Minute is a blog I write each week with the aim of providing proven tools to help promote positive mental health.
The collection of short, practical mindfulness and therapy tools for self-reflection and self-improvement, can equip people to take their mental well-being into their own hands, and improve their quality of life.
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