This is Episode 5 of the Get Psyched with Ayan Vlog Series.
We have all been in situations that make us stressed or anxious and we all have our coping mechanisms. Some healthy and some not so healthy. This video is especially important if you consider yourself to be an anxious person, have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or you are suffering from chronic stress. In this video I will walk you through 3 simple calming techniques and also give you the reasons why they are effective at calming us down.
Before I get into the techniques I want to quickly give you some background info. To keep things simple there are 2 types of nervous systems in our body, the Autonomic Nervous System and the Somatic Nervous System. The ANS is responsible for the working of our internal organs and stuff that happens within us, without our conscious control, like the beating of the heart. The SNS controls our bodily movements and we have more conscious control over that.
We will look at the ANS for this video. The ANS has 2 parts –
Sympathetic Nervous System – This system is called the flight or fight system and it activates and increases the heartbeat, blood flow to our limbs, increase in adrenaline and prepares us for bodily exertion that might be needed in a fight or flight situation
Parasympathetic Nervous System – This system is called the rest and digest system. It is the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system and it calms us down. Reduces the heartbeat, more blood flow to the stomach and gets us into a mellow mood
A well-functioning system regulates between sympathetic and parasympathetic system activation.
Now here is the key – the only way we can consciously control the activation of these systems, is through our breath.
Our breath is the only process that is both involuntary and voluntary at the same time and it can affect the rest of your ANS. So when you inhale it activates your sympathetic system, so increases your heart rate and when you exhale that activates your parasympathetic system and reduces your heart rate.
When you are very anxious or stressed, your sympathetic nervous system is running the show, as it perceives danger and you experience all the symptoms of a flight or fight response. For folks suffering from anxiety disorders or chronic stress, the sympathetic system is sort of semi-activated all the time and only needs a small amount of external stimuli to make it go into full on, this is war mode.
So with that we will look at the 3 calming techniques and know that these techniques can be “stacked” to increase their effects. So you start with the first technique and while you are still doing it, you add the second and then the third to get the full effect of the parasympathetic response and calm yourself rapidly.
2-1-4 Belly Breathing
In this technique we firstly breathe with our bellies, in what we call diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing. Belly breathing is a lot deeper than chest breathing and it further improves the calming response by stimulating the Vagus nerve. I want you to try belly breathing with me. Take a long deep breath into your belly, putting one hand on your chest and one over your belly. As you breathe in, feel your belly expand, while your chest stays where it is and when you exhale your belly contracts. It might seem difficult if you have never tried it before, but it becomes a lot easier with practice.
Next, if we increase the duration of our exhale, as compared to our inhale, then we are activating more of the calming, parasympathetic system. I call this type of breathing, the 2-1-4 breath. We inhale for a count of 2, hold for a single count and then exhale slowly for a count of 4.
How does that make you feel? It makes me really mellow.
Muscle Tension and Relaxation
When you are feeling anxious and having those racing thoughts, all your attention is inwards and in your head. You are thinking fast and compulsively analyzing what-if situations or making up stories. Any body sensations that you may have, like a racing heart, clammy hands or palpitations, add to your mental story and make you feel even more anxious and out of control. At this time it can be really helpful to pull your attention into your body and to actively relax your body.
In the method I use, I first tense all the muscles in my body, as hard as I can, without hurting myself, for 10 seconds and then just let go and let them relax. This brings me out of my head, reconnects my awareness with my body and actively relaxes my body. I would recommend doing this 3 times and continuing with the 2-1-4 breath, after you are done.
When you are anxious, your attention and awareness is directed inwards, you maybe spiralling inwards. Then it can be very helpful to focus outwards and throw our awareness back outside. I do this by focusing on 2 or more of my senses. Look at a stationary object that does not freak you out in the moment and really look at it. Put all your attention on it, without any judgment regarding the object. As you are doing so, focus your hearing on a sound coming from your environment and put all your attention on looking at this object and on hearing this sound. Whenever your mind wants to take you back to your anxious thoughts, bring it back onto the object and onto the sound. Choose another object and sound, if needed.
There you go folks, those were 3 calming techniques for anxiety and stress and some background info on how to manipulate our nervous system to calm us down. Please try them out and let me know how they work for you, by commenting below.
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