By Shoshana Weed, MA, LMHCA, Seattle Christian Counseling
Mind-Body Techniques to Manage Anxiety
Mind-body exercises train the brain to respond to anxiety in a healthy way. With each practice, the brain becomes more flexible and able to move through anxiety with greater ease. Here is a list of four mind-body practices you can use to manage anxiety:
1. Deflating Balloon: This exercise works well to manage shortness of breath. Slowly release all the air from your lungs. Think of your stomach as a balloon, letting air release from the opening on top. Rather than forcing the air out, let your lungs deflate with ease. When you have no more air to release, let your lungs fill with air. You may feel a springy sensation as your lungs pull air back inside. Focus on letting the air enter the lower chambers of your lungs first, then filling your upper chest. You can release no more air from your lungs. Repeat 5 times, or until you feel your breath return to a comfortable flow.
2. Square Breathing: This exercise works well to regulate rapid heart rate or a feeling of butterflies in your stomach. Close your eyes and stand up straight. Hold one arm in front of you and point your finger. Inhale deeply for 3 seconds as you move your arm about 1 foot up in the air. Hold your inhaled breath for 3 seconds as you move your hand horizontally towards the other side of your body. Exhale deeply for 3 seconds as you move your hand in a downward direction. Hold your exhaled breath for 3 seconds as you move your hand horizontally to its original position. Picture your finger drawing a square shape as you move through this cycle. Repeat 10 times, or until you feel your heart return to a normal rate.
3. Wall Sits: This exercise works well to relieve shaking or trembling. Place your back on a wall and lower your body as if you are sitting on a chair. Place your calves and thighs in a 90-degree angle with the floor. Press your back, shoulders and head firmly against the wall and hold for 30-60 seconds. If it feels good to you, try adding exercise 1, 2, or 4 as you complete the wall sit.
4. Tension and Release: This exercise works well to release muscle tension. With your elbows at your side, hold your forearms out in front of you at a 90-degree angle. Make a fist with each of your hands, squeezing and tensing your hands, arms, and shoulders as much as you can. Focus on keeping your breath steady and deep as you tense your arms. Hold for about 10 seconds, and then release the tension in your hands, arms, and shoulders all at once. Let your body relax for a few seconds, then repeat when you are ready. Continue this cycle 3-5 times. Make sure to end the cycle in the released state.
In each of these exercises, pay attention to how your breathing and body feel. These techniques can be used on a short-term basis, as a means of moving through anxiety in the moment; or on a long-term basis, as daily brain-training exercises.
Mind-body practices have tremendously positive impacts on the brain, but they also have their limits. Most of the time, our brain sends a message of perceived danger because of something that happened in the past – a painful, maybe even traumatic experience that remains unresolved. Mind-body practices provide healthy symptom management; but they do not get to the root of what is triggering anxiety. Through the therapeutic relationship, we can explore the meaning of your anxiety in a deeper way, seeking the complete freedom and healing that I believe God intends for you. If you would like further support as you pursue healing from anxiety, I would be delighted to collaborate with you.
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