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If you've got those familiar feelings of stress and anxiety coursing through your body right now, you're definitely not alone. COVID-19 and this global pandemic have us anxious, coping with stress in weird ways, a new fear of the unknown, potential bouts of depression, maybe a panic attack here and there... We get it. Times are uncertain, our mental health is taxed, we're doing what we can to reduce stress and anxiety in general, and relaxation has taken a back seat. It’s no secret that stress is proven to weaken our immunity, so now more than ever, it's important to relax, deal with what's happening, and find the coping mechanisms to help you reclaim your mental health and reduce your involvement in stressed moments.
Let's deal with stress and anxiety together and see what we can do to reduce it. Here's how...
A symptom of stress is our bodies entering the very real ‘fight or flight’ mode and feeling under attack physically and mentally. While stress and anxiety are taxing in a number of ways to our mental health, meditation can be powerful in combatting the symptoms and shifting from a state of anxiety into a ‘rest and digest’ mode by simply restructuring the way you breathe. Relax, set a timer for ten minutes, and try one of these simple breathing techniques to ease your day and help you be more productive.
1. Long Exhale Breath
◦ Find a comfortable seat or lay down.
◦ Start with a deep cleansing breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.
◦ Establish an equal part breath. Inhale through your nose for 3 counts and exhale through your nose for 3 counts. Repeat this for 5 rounds.
◦ Continue to inhale for 3 counts and lengthen the exhale to 5 counts. (You may play with the counts depending on your lung capacity.)
2. Against the Grain Breath
◦ Find a comfortable seat or lay down.
◦ Start with a deep cleansing breath in through your nose and out through the mouth.
◦ Inhale and send it down into your belly and pause. Sip in more air to fill your ribcage, pause. Breathe all the way up to your collarbones, pause at the top. Exhale fully.
◦ Take a cleansing breath in between each round.
3. Alternate Nostril Breath
◦ Find a comfortable seat.
◦ Lift your right hand to eye level, palm facing you. Fold your index and middle finger down toward your palm, leaving your pinky, ring, and thumb free. Gently place your ring finger on your left nostril.
◦ Start with a deep cleansing breath in through your nose and out through the mouth.
◦ Use your ring finger to close off your left nostril and inhale through your right nostril. Close your right nostril with your thumb and release your ring finger from the left nostril. Exhale through the left side.
◦ Inhale through the left nostril. Close the left nostril with your ring finger and release your thumb from the right nostril. Exhale through the right side.
◦ Continue to alternate from side to side.
Stress and anxiety are harbored in the upper body, generating tension in your shoulders and racing in your mind, making it near impossible to hone in on relaxation and deal with those stressed feelings and fear symptoms. Finding the security of the body’s foundation is a great way to get grounded and balance out all that accumulated stressed energy that carries your mind up, up, and away into the land of fear, worst-case scenarios, anxiety, and eventual panic attack symptoms. (Plus, it'll help with your post-at-home-workout recovery!)
Try this sequence of postures that will help you feel nice and sturdy, as well as relieved and relaxed, letting anxiety and stress know they aren't welcome in this space.
1. Child’s Pose – Come down to your hands and knees. Let the tops of your feet and toes smooth on the ground and gather your big toes to touch. Either widen your knees greater than hips distance apart or keep them together and sink your seat all the way back to your heels. Rest your forehead on the ground and outstretch your arms forward.
2. Downward Dog – From child’s pose, tuck your toes under, press into your palms, and lift your hips up to the ceiling creating a ‘V’ shape in your body. Keep your knees soft so your belly can sink back toward your thighs.
3. Standing Forward Bend – Look forward between your thumbs and take slow, heel-toe steps up toward your hands. Your knees can stay soft as you let your torso drape over your legs. Feel the four corners of your feet solid on the ground beneath them and let go of any control over your head, neck, and shoulders.
4. Mountain Pose – Tuck your chin in toward your chest. Ground down into your heels and slowly roll up to stand as if you were moving through honey, lifting your head last. Breathe in deeply and crunch your shoulders up by your ears. On the exhale, let them drop down your back. Stand strong and tall through your legs, fan out your fingers like you want to receive a low-five, and lift tall through your chest. Invite in the feeling of standing on a mountain top. You are strong and grounded here.
Depression is very, very real. Burying our emotions and not coping with issues can be a lot like not taking out the trash—things get kind of funky for everyone if it sits around too long. While meditation and breathing exercises can replace anxious feelings with relaxation and mindfulness, journaling can be a great way to also move through any anxious feelings you’re holding onto and stay connected with yourself. If you’re not sure where to start, never fear! Try one of these writing prompts and kick anxiety to the curb:
• List 5 things you are grateful for.
• What do you normally wish you had more time for?
• Describe your 3 happiest moments of the last week.
Want to actually and physically shake anxiety and stress out of your life? Turn a potential panic attack into a dance party with yourself. The saying goes, "Dance like no one’s watching...."—because right now, it’s likely that no one is. Press play on this upbeat playlist we created to help you move that energy around.
Baths and facials are ancient self-care rituals. But let’s be real, these luxuries often get cast aside for more efficient ways of pampering like showers and sheet masks. With the gift of time on your side, slip into the tub and go all out with that 12-step skincare routine you’ve been wanting to try. Reduce the overhead lights, light up some candles, drop in some lavender and eucalyptus essential oils to elevate the ambiance, and kiss anxiety and stress goodbye as you sink into the water.
Have you been feeling it? The big emotion floating around the last few weeks is the Big Anxiety. Coupled with the stress of what the COVID-19 pandemic has bought for millions of people, disturbed wellness routines, and worry, we have a recipe to create massive damage to ourselves.
Adjusting to the new normal, with social distancing practices in place and adapting to precautions and routines, may be the root of even more anxiousness for many as we’re navigating uncharted territories.
During times of high stress, our bodies experience a physiological strain, where essentially everything from our heart, muscles, blood, and energy have to work harder than needed in order to keep functioning at a minimum. Our body’s natural processes, like breathing, can get compromised, lessening the healing functions of the nervous system, and overworking our adrenal system. Stress management is almost non-existent. This overtaxing of the body disrupts the natural flow of energy and resources, and puts us in something known as the “fight or flight” mode. In this mode, we are constantly deciding if there is some kind of real danger and how to survive it. We feel these signals when our heart rate and blood pressure rise, our stress responses like sweating and either constricted or super fast breathing occur, and our feel-good hormones become compromised.
As we process anxiety, not only do we mentally and emotionally feel the repercussions, we also physically confuse our systems that are doing their best to naturally heal us. Staying in a state of continued anxiety with an overactive sympathetic nervous system can be incredibly damaging to your health, even if it is a small amount of stress that collects over time. Stress suppresses our immunity, digestion, deep breathing, disrupts sleep, and eating patterns, impacts mood, energy levels, and much more.
Studies show that over 50% of adults are essentially holding their breaths. They do a shallow type of breathing known as thoracic breathing, where you breathe lightly into your chest instead of into your diaphragm. For example, notice how you’re breathing right now. You’re likely holding your breath to some extent and you’re probably not breathing much at all. If you’re asked to partake in a deep breathing exercise now, you’ll puff up your chest and shoulders, and empty out your stomach. Guilty?
If you’ve ever seen a baby breathe or the breathing technique of someone in deep sleep, you’ll notice that their bellies rise and fall; the oxygen goes directly into a natural deep belly breath. Adults, however, have become acclimated to holding our breaths without meaning to. When we can slow down and practice deep breathing, we send physical and neurological signals through our entire body that asks us to rest.
The great news is that there are easy breathing exercises we can do at home that do not take a lot of time or effort. An incredible tool that anyone can use in times of high stress is remembering to inhale and exhale. Yes, breathing. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also recommended breathwork not simply as an immunity building tool, but as a way to balance emotional and mental wellbeing. Deep breathing and other breathwork improves the body’s overall functions; improves the respiratory system, builds protective mucus in the nose, oxygenates and blood and brain, improves digestion, alkalizes the full body, and much more. Each style of breathwork sends special physiological signals—some ask us our bodies to slow down and chill, to get out of fight mode, and bring us back to equilibrium where our body’s natural healing systems can be activated; some styles of breathwork ask to pump up and energize.
It’s common to find yourself rushing through breathing practices or feel like you need to set aside special time for it. But that’s the point. We get to slow down, and we get to implement these practices even if there are distractions, business, and no perfect zen meditation corners in our homes. We can do these anytime, anywhere.
If you’ve been feeling any small symptoms of anxiousness or stress, now is the perfect time to incorporate some incredibly easy and effective breathwork techniques into your day-to-day.
This breathing technique can be done at any time of the day, for as long as you want. It’s recommended to practice this for at least 30 seconds to start and several times throughout the day. It’s a breath technique to practice before going to sleep as well. As you’re doing this breath, imagine your stomach like a big pump. As you breathe in, you’re expanding; as you breathe out, you’re emptying out.
1. Put your hands on your belly/abdomen area.
2. Take a big breath through the nose and PUSH your hands away from the belly as you breathe in. Expand your stomach as much as possible and try not to puff up your chest.
3. Slowly exhale through the mouth and constrict your belly inwards. Feel free to make a sound with the mouth when you do this.
4. Repeat for a minimum of 30 seconds.
The 6-7-8 breath can be done at any time of the day to calm anxiousness and stress, especially before doing to sleep. It’s a self-soothing technique that helps relax and calm the nervous system. You can do this practice sitting up or laying down.
1. Close down your eyes.
2. Relax your mouth.
3. Take a deep breath in through your nose for 6 full seconds. Count in your head and maintain an even pace.
4. Hold this breath for 7 seconds.
5. Pucker your mouth and exhale out through the mouth with a “whoooooossh” sound for 8 seconds.
6. Repeat this 6-7-8 breath for at least 5 rounds, or as long as you wish.
You can adjust the 6-7-8 counts to accommodate your pace. You can try a 4-5-6 sequence, or an 8-9-10 sequence. Play around with the length of time that feels good for your body. Some people love to sit by an analog clock for the ticking sound to help keep pace; some love to incorporate music.
This is another easy technique that can be done at any time of the day.
1. Breathe in for 4 seconds through the nose.
2. Hold for 4 seconds.
3. Exhale for 4 seconds through the nose.
4. Hold for 4 seconds.
5. Repeat at least 5 times.
You can play around with the timing for 6 seconds, 8 seconds, and so on to see what works best for your body.
These are the top three breathwork techniques to manage anxiety and stress. Plenty of other techniques work on sleep, inner healing, subconscious programming, altered states of consciousness, and more. Play with the three techniques above and see what feels great for you. It’s common to find a sense of calm almost immediately, some gentle tingling, and relaxation! As we’re adjusting to the new normal, let’s all contribute to creating peace both inside and out.