As a child, my dad would take me running around the lake near our home. We would wake up at the crack of dawn to complete our run before his workday began. During our run, I would beg for a break; complaining that I have asthma and I can’t run as fast and as long as my dad. After the first few runs, he told me that I would never get faster if I don’t push myself. I appreciated the encouragement, but I didn’t know what steps to take to “push myself”. Now, as a therapist, I often hear the same question from clients that are trying to overcome their anxiety: ‘what are the steps to push through my anxiety?’
Anxiety can be a common feeling that we experience in stressful situations (for example, going on a first date or giving a presentation at work). However, if you begin to notice that you are experiencing excessive worry and constant racing thoughts for everyday situations, this could be an indication that your anxiety has become an impairment to your daily functioning. Unfortunately, anxiety can manifest in physical symptoms as well. Rapid heart rate, sweating, difficulty breathing, and even dissociation are some of the ways that anxiety presents itself.
Deep breathing interventions are some of the most helpful to teach a client that is struggling with anxiety, as it decreases the physical symptoms. However, one of my favorite interventions was introduced when I was trying to improve my running skills! My dad would tell me to pick a song that I enjoy, not too slow, but too fast; a steady tempo. As we would run, he would tell me to sing the song in my head, as this would help to regulate my breathing (Dad told me this is why soldiers in the military chant while they run together…not sure if this is true, but it makes a lot of sense!). Can you see how this would be beneficial for someone struggling with anxiety?
Now, I share this as a tool to regulate breathing and decrease anxiety. I encourage clients to think of a song they know well (try not to choose a song that triggers feelings of sadness or depression. Uplifting or positive lyrics can make a positive impact!), something they can recall, even if they are overwhelmed. When they begin to notice that anxiety is increasing, they sing the song in their head. It helps to regulate breathing, and a happy song can also improve mood. Music lovers really enjoy this technique! It’s always nice to have extra tools in your mental health toolbox, so here are some other helpful breathing techniques:
-rule of four: breathe in through the nose for four seconds, hold breath for four seconds, then release through the mouth for four seconds. Repeat four times…simple and easy to remember techniques are best, as you don’t have to spend too much time thinking about what to do next.
-lift your tongue to the roof of your mouth and take a deep breath in through the nose. Let out that breath through the mouth until all of your air has been expelled.
-consider closing your eyes for this technique. As you take a deep breath in, visualize a color that represents peace and positivity. As you breathe out, visualize a color that represents negativity. Imagine you are taking in all the positive things around you, and breathing out all the negativity.
If breathing is regulated, you have a chance to recognize the anxious thoughts, and challenge them. Remember, this is simply the first step to decrease anxiety. It takes time, so don’t be hard on yourself as you work through your anxiety!