Sometimes getting rid of some of your moment-to-moment anxiety can be done really quickly, and you can do it without much effort or mental gymnastics. One simple yet effective way is by taking a moment to force yourself to breathe into your gut. This is one of the coping skills that I use the most with my clients for moment-to-moment anxiety. It can work fairly quickly, you can do it just about anywhere, and there are real physiological reasons behind its calming effect. The purpose is to help your body respond more calmly to a problem when you can’t solve the actual problem itself.
This technique is called belly breathing because while doing it you deliberately breathe deeper into your belly than you normally do. When you breathe this way your lungs fill up more fully and push your belly outward. This puts pressure on the vagus nerve, which regulates the fight or flight state and its opposite state, rest and digest. This pressure can soothe this nerve somewhat and have a noticeably calming effect on you, and can do so fairly quickly with practice. Doing it this way can also release some feel good chemicals that are stored in your stomach lining and add to a sense of feeling a little better. Remember while you do this that your shoulders should not rise. If they do you are using energy unnecessarily, and probably putting more tension into the areas of your body that may already have too much tension there in the first place.
Another important thing to remember is that your outbreath (not really a word) should be slower than your inbreath (also not a word). This is because the inbreath activates the branch of your nervous system that puts you into fight or flight, while the outbreath activates the branch that takes you out of fight or flight. As you breathe in you amp some things up, and while you breathe out you calm them down. You’re doing your body a favor by spending more time breathing out than breathing in, so pay special attention to the outbreath.
Breathing this way also has the added bonus of distracting you from some of the thoughts that are causing you anxiety, and making you focus on your body instead. Even if our anxiety isn’t caused directly by our thoughts, it’s more than likely reinforced and strengthened by them. We call this being in our head, and a lot of times it’s not a fun place to be. Focusing on your body in an active way can take your attention off of the stressful thoughts and give your nervous system a chance to reset.
There are a lot of ways to do breathing exercises, and some are going to work better for certain people than for others. This is the way that I’ve found works best with most people. So when you’re feeling a little bit of tension that you want to get rid of, practice taking even just one or two deep breaths this way and see if it doesn’t help to reset your nervous system somewhat and put you a little more at ease.