When we are anxious our breathing is disrupted. Essentially, we take in more oxygen than the body needs – in other words we over breathe or hyperventilate. When this imbalance is detected the body responds with some chemical changes that produce symptoms such as dizziness, light-headedness, confusion, breathlessness, blurred vision, increase in heart rate to pump more blood around, numbness and tingling in the extremities, cold, clammy hands and muscle stiffness. The normal rate of breathing is 10-12 breaths per minute.

Use this breathing calming technique by following these steps and you’ll be on your way to developing a better breathing habit:

  1. Ensure that you are sitting on a comfortable chair or laying on a bed
  2. Take a breath in for 4 seconds (through the nose if possible)
  3. Hold the breath for 2 seconds
  4. Release the breath taking 6 seconds (through the nose if possible), then pause slightly before breathing in again.
  5. Practise, regularly.

When you are doing your breathing exercises, make sure that you are using a stomach breathing style rather than a chest breathing style. You can check this by placing one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. The hand on your stomach should rise when you breathe in.

Try to practise at least once or twice a day at a time when you can relax, relatively free from distraction. This will help to develop a more relaxed breathing habit. The key to progress really is practise, so try to set aside some time each day. By using the calming technique, you can slow your breathing down and reduce your general level anxiety.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

One method of reducing muscle tension that people have found helpful is through a technique called Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). In progressive muscle relaxation exercises, you tense up particular muscles and then relax them, and then you practise this technique consistently.

Preparing for relaxation:

  • Select your surroundings.Minimise the distraction to your five senses. Such as turning off the TV and radio and using soft lighting.
  • Make yourself comfortable.Use a chair that comfortably seats your body, including your head. Wear loose clothing and take off your shoes.
  • Internal mechanics.Avoid practicing after big, heavy meals and do not practice after consuming any intoxicants, such as alcohol.

General procedure:

  1. Once you’ve set aside the time and place for relaxation, slow down your breathing and give yourself permission to relax.
  2. When you are ready to begin, tense the muscle group described. Make sure you can feel the tension, but not so much that you feel a great deal of pain. Keep the muscle tensed for approximately 5 seconds.
  3. Relax the muscles and keep it relaxed for approximately 10 seconds. It may be helpful to say something like “Relax” as you relax the muscle.
  4. When you have finished the relaxation procedure, remain seated for a few moments allowing yourself to become alert.

Relaxation sequence:

  1. Right hand and forearm. Make a fist with your right hand.
  2. Right upper arm. Bring your right forearm up to your shoulder to “make a muscle”.
  3. Left hand and forearm.
  4. Left upper arm.
  5. Raise your eyebrows as high as they will go, as though you were surprised by something.
  6. Eyes and cheeks. Squeeze your eyes tight shut.
  7. Mouth and jaw. Open your mouth as wide as you can, as you might when you‘re yawning.
  8. Be careful as you tense these muscles. Face forward and then pull your head back slowly, as though you are looking up to the ceiling.
  9. Tense the muscles in your shoulders as you bring your shoulders up towards your ears.
  10. Shoulder blades/Back. Push your shoulder blades back, trying to almost touch them together, so that your chest is pushed forward.
  11. Chest and stomach. Breathe in deeply, filling up your lungs and chest with air.
  12. Hips and buttocks. Squeeze your buttock muscles
  13. Right upper leg. Tighten your right thigh.
  14. Right, lower leg. Do this slowly and carefully to avoid cramps. Pull your toes towards you to stretch the calf muscle.
  15. Right foot. Curl your toes downwards.
  16. Left upper leg. Repeat as for upper right leg.
  17. Left lower leg. Repeat as for lower right leg.
  18. Left foot. Repeat as for right foot.

Practice means progress. Only through practice can you become more aware of your muscles, how they respond with tension and how you can relax them. Training your body to respond differently to stress is like any training – practising consistently is the key.

For further advice & support contact EAP Assist